How Toronto businesses are learning to adapt to the mandatory face mask policy

Jul 16 2020, 12:17 pm

It has been just over one week since face masks became mandatory for indoor settings in Toronto and businesses are needing to adapt quickly.

For two establishments located in the Danforth neighbourhood, the policy is welcome, even though it does pose some logistical challenges.

I fantasize about a mask burning party, I can’t stand wearing it,” Amr Elimam, restaurant owner of Papyrus, told Daily Hive. “But I look at it like taxes. We pay taxes, we don’t love it, but it’s an obligation to society and we agree it makes society as a whole better.” 

Elimam wears a face shield at work, and mandated his staff to wear face masks months before it became mandatory.

So far, the Papyrus staff have been very compliant, as have most customers. And if a customer refuses to wear a mask, then Elimam doesn’t want to serve them.

“Most customers have been great, sometimes you need to remind them if they take off the mask when they’re in the restaurant. But it’s the law and if they don’t want to follow it that’s not a customer that is welcome in any case.”

Photo courtesy of Papyrus.

The restaurant owner noted that most in the city have “progressive social values” and now is not a time to be “selfish and silly.”

Elimam said he won’t hesitate to ask the customer to leave if they cannot comply with the law.

The sentiment is shared with pet store owner, Keiley Routledge who believes that wearing the masks is about “taking care of each other and the community.”

“It’s not about you, it’s about us,” the Small Wonders store owner told Daily Hive. “If everybody complies then we can all recover a lot faster.” 

For Routledge, wearing the masks in the store has given her staff and customers peace-of-mind.

Currently, to not overcrowd the store, the front door is locked and customers must knock in order to be let in. They are also not allowed to touch any of the pet supplies, especially the toys for the animals, which are difficult to sanitize.

Small Wonders is a neighbourhood staple that has been in Toronto for 26 years. The loyal customer base has been supportive of Routledge’s business, sending thank you cards throughout the pandemic as she and her staff offered curbside pick-up.

And even though the staff work less than their usual 10 hour days — pre-pandemic — the work is now more tiring due to all the detail needed for curbside pick-up, ensuring customers are distancing in the stores, and not accidentally touching items.

“It’s more tiring and has been difficult on the staff,” Routledge said. “It’s been more of a learning curve as things change and as we move forward into different phases of reopening we’ll see what it’s like with people congregating. This is a fluid situation and you have to ‘go with the flow.'” 

The store cat, who Routledge said customers used to come in and pet, which can longer happen. (Photo courtesy of Small Wonders.)

While most of Ontario enters Stage 3 on Friday, Toronto will remain in its current second stage.

But even when the city can enter Stage 3, which allows people to dine inside restaurants, Elimam says he’s not sure he’ll allow people to dine inside Papyrus.

“If people are cough and sneezing in a small space, I’m not crazy about it. We have to see where we are with cases and I’ll consult with my staff and see how they feel about cases.”

One step he’ll take is having entirely disposable plates and cutlery for customers, that are environmentally friendly.

Routledge too will have a cautious approach, even if it means she can’t talk to her customers like before.

“We used to have longer chats with our customers about their pets or what was going on at the dog park, but you can’t do that anymore. And I suspect, we won’t be able to do that for a long time.”

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