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Restaurants rely on locals to keep doors open during border closure

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In a place like Fort Frances where most local businesses rely on tourists from the United States and other parts of Ontario, the hospitality sector has been hit hard by COVID-19.

Edith Bodnar, owner of Harbourage, said they are usually very busy, but when COVID-19 hit, they were closed down to takeout.

“It was quite a shock. It was kind of scary,” Bodnar said. “I think people were just scared to go out of their houses, but after that, we were doing fairly well.”

Harbourage is located on 1230 2nd St. East, just in front of the waterfront, where tourists tend to congregate. However, she and other restaurant owners are now relying on local traffic to help make ends meet until the border opens. Bodnar said locals have been very supportive and respectful of their efforts to maintain the cleanliness and follow the provincial guidelines of stage 3.

“We are very grateful for the local support we've been getting,” Bodnar said. “Once we opened up inside, it has been going steady and it has picked up a lot. Until the border opens, we're going to depend on the locals. I'm very grateful to them. In the summer, we usually have a lot of American tourists, which of course was not going to happen.”

Even though they were 70 per cent below their average season target, the pace picked up again when the province allowed patio dinning then indoor dinning in stage 3, Bodnar said.

According to Bodnar, the most challenging part is trying to figure out staffing and the increased costs of takeout orders.

“I did not increase my prices because I should try and help the community not raise the prices, but the cost of take-out is astronomical plus the cleaning supplies that we need to clean after everybody,” Bodnar said. “Meeting the costs of running the place has been a challenge.”

Bodnar said they disinfect and sterilize the tables and everything the customers touch when the customer leaves.

“We're disinfecting the door handles and the bathrooms periodically throughout the day. We wipe down the debit machine and the takeout menus,” Bodnar said. “We are doing our best. We are down to half capacity. We closed some tables on the deck to maintain the social distance. People have been very good to abide by that."

Just like with most businesses, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the province ordered the closure of non-essential services, Bodnar had to lay off 10 of her 14 staff members, but she was eligible for the 75 per cent federal wage subsidy which helped her business stay afloat.

“I'm grateful to my staff,” Bodnar said. “They have been very loyal and very dedicated. They are hardworking and they've done a lot to keep the business going and keeping the customers happy. I will carry on the way we are, and hope for the best.”

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