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The provincial government announced on Friday that as of July 16, essential and non-essential retail and personal-care services will be able to operate with no capacity restrictions as long as physical distancing is maintained, and indoor dining will be permitted for the first time in months.ALEX FILIPE/Reuters

Business owners applauded Ontario’s decision to move to Step 3 of its reopening plan next Friday, but there remains a long road to recovery for many.

The provincial government announced on Friday that as of July 16, essential and non-essential retail and personal-care services will be able to operate with no capacity restrictions as long as physical distancing is maintained, and indoor dining will be permitted for the first time in months.

“This really is like oxygen for our retailers,” said Diane Brisebois, president and chief executive officer of industry group the Retail Council of Canada. “It was extremely important to get them to reopen as quickly as possible.”

But some Ontarians may be hesitant to return to normal, and some restrictions remain, said Dan Kelly, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. “They still have a long road ahead.”

While the new rules lift the 25-per-cent capacity restrictions for non-essential retailers, stores will still have to limit the number of customers in order to ensure they comply with two-metre distancing requirements.

“What’s more important is that it’s a signal to consumers to have more confidence, and to feel as a society that we’re reopening,” said David Bensadoun, chief executive officer of Montreal-based Aldo Group Inc. He has seen the impact as stores have reopened in the U.S.: in May, for example, nine out of Aldo’s top-10 selling items there were dress shoes with heels; in Canada, eight out of 10 were flats.

“For fashion retail, the capacity is one thing; another thing is, are people living life again?” Mr. Bensadoun said. “Do they want to celebrate, and wear something other than sweatpants?”

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At Civello Salons, moving from 25-per-cent capacity to two-metre distancing rules will make a big difference, said chief executive officer Ray Civello. But staffing is a challenge: After months of shutdowns, many people left the industry or struck out on their own with in-home services. Mr. Civello’s staffing levels are 75 per cent of what they were.

“We’re looking at how to be attractive to youth, to come and work with us,” he said. “… At the forefront of our thinking is training and developing more talent.”

Gyms and other fitness facilities will be allowed to open for indoor service on Friday, at 50-per-cent capacity.

“The phone has been ringing non-stop with people asking, are we open?” said Carrie Percival, senior instructor at the Academy of Martial Arts in Brampton. During the pandemic, the school began offering online classes, and has run outdoor classes since June. It has also expanded its business by offering corporate Tai Chi classes online.

“Everyone is talking about physical fitness, but a big part of martial arts is about mental health as well,” Ms. Percival said.

For some businesses, reopening will not be immediate. Corner Peach, a restaurant in Ottawa, converted its space to a bodega during the pandemic, selling things such as wine, sourdough bread and take-home meals.

“We switched to a store because we couldn’t deal with the back and forth – open, close,” said co-owner Caroline Murphy. She and her business partner are currently expanding into the space next door to keep the shop going, but won’t reopen the restaurant right away. They are planning some renovations first.

“We’re thinking of reassessing the seating arrangements so that people can be more separate – possibly putting in booths,” she said.

Amer Diab, co-owner of the Three Speed bar in Toronto, is taking a cautious approach.

He said the pub may not open as much as it could, “as far as capacity is concerned.”

In March, when outdoor dining was opened up in Toronto and Peel Region, Mr. Diab gathered his staff to discuss whether they should open for patio service – and decided they did not yet feel safe doing so. (Within a couple of weeks, the province pulled an “emergency brake,” shutting down outdoor dining across Ontario.) They began outdoor service in June at roughly 25 per cent of their patio capacity.

Now, Mr. Diab plans to talk to his staff again about whether to resume some indoor seating.

“There are decisions made for business, and decisions made for public health, and they’re not always the same decisions,” he said. “We’re trying first and foremost to make sure the staff feel safe.”

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