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Retailers report mixed results on June 4 re-opening

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Norfolk County retailers of “non-essential” items are glad to be open again, even if limits remain on how many customers they can have in their stores due to COVID-19.

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Many retailers were hopeful that the June 4 re-opening in Simcoe would coincide with a return of migrant farm workers who’ve been largely absent from the core since the spring of 2020. Reports from local merchants suggest this traffic did not return this weekend and could remain light for the remainder of this year’s growing season.

“I’m waiting for word to get around that we’ve re-opened,” says Penny Shurr, owner of Mainstation clothing stores in downtown Waterford and Simcoe. “There are a lot of businesses that need that traffic. They can’t survive without it.”

Shurr reports downtown Waterford was busy on the weekend. But due to the slow volume of traffic in Simcoe, she closed her boutique on Norfolk Street South in Simcoe early Friday night.

Weekend traffic at Lily’s Tacos on Kent Street North in Simcoe was also slower than expected. An owner who would only give his name as Henry also reported migrant-worker traffic was lower than expected. He’s been told farmers are reluctant to bring their workforces to town due to the possibility of someone coming back to the bunkhouse with COVID-19.

“Farmers don’t want to bring their workers to town,” Henry said at Lily’s Tacos. “We’ve tried to offer our services to the farms and they don’t want us. It’s affecting everyone. It’s been two years now since the workers have come to town.”

Shurr says there were long line-ups outside big-box stores in Simcoe on the weekend now that the Ford government has lifted the prohibition on non-essential sales. She found this disappointing given that independent retailers have gone above and beyond to service customers during the lockdown. For the Mainstation stores, this means taking orders over the phone and online and delivering the goods in person.

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“I hope people continue to support local and keep supporting local,” Shurr said. “If we don’t support local businesses we eventually won’t have any.”

Shurr noted she was getting about 100 hits a day at her online shopping portal prior to Friday. That tailed off to a trickle over the weekend, she added.

Cam Carter of Carter’s Men’s and Ladies Wear in downtown Simcoe said business was good on the  weekend. He saw a few offshore workers but was mainly pre-occupied with customers preparing for weddings. Carter counselled patience on the migrant-worker front, noting “We get the farm trade toward the end of the season once they have money.”

Economists expect the economy to bounce back quickly post-pandemic due to pent-up demand for many items. However, COVID-19 has disrupted some key supply chains, hampering, for example, the delivery of new vehicles to dealers and computer equipment to end users due to a microchip shortage.

Jennifer Baker, a manager at Pharmasave in downtown Delhi, says a similar situation has befallen suppliers of name-brand vitamins and related supplements. Baker says a surge in demand during the pandemic for these products has some companies struggling to keep up. Certain product lines, she says, have been unavailable on occasion.

“It’s a supply issue,” Baker said.

For their part, the resort communities of Port Dover and Port Rowan were busy, says Cindy Vanderstar, owner of the Cashmere and Cobwebs boutique, the C-Squared home decor shop, and the Second to None used-clothing store in Port Dover.

“It was crazy,” Vanderstar said. “All three stores were slamming. I think we broke some records for a June weekend. I went by some patios in Port Dover and Port Rowan and they were busy too. We had a lot of people from out of town. Customers were ecstatic. They were chatty and polite. It was nice.

The fact the pandemic has forced retailers to carve out a place to sell their wares on the internet has been a silver lining for some. Vanderstar said her online used-clothing store is taking orders from across Canada, prompting her to hire three people to help manage demand.

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