Passports good for business
For this Toronto gym owner, Ontario’s new vaccine certificate system is working
As Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine passport kicked into gear, Luigi Montilla figured it might take a significant chunk out of his membership bottom line.
After the first full weekend of the passport being in effect, the co-owner of Joe Rockhead’s rock-climbing gym is pleasantly surprised.
“We maybe had four people cancel their memberships. Even they were pretty understanding about it. ‘We know you’ve got to follow the rules,’” said Montilla.
Not that he was happy with the cancellations after being closed for much of the last 18 months.
But Montilla said they didn’t amount to much compared to the new customers who came in.
“It was more than made up for by other people coming in. It was a pretty good weekend,” said Montilla, who credits the passport for the boost. “I think this will make more people feel comfortable about coming in.”
Since last Wednesday, anyone wanting to take part in a wide variety of non-essential indoor activities — including going to a gym, dining and drinking indoors or attending a concert or sporting event — has needed to provide proof of vaccination and a government-issued ID.
While there was an angry antivaccine protest outside the Eaton Centre that saw two people arrested, Montilla and other business owners said it was mostly smooth sailing. And for some, there was an uptick in business.
“It was slower than pre-COVID, but it was a lot busier than it’s been lately,” said Celina Blanchard, owner of Roncesvalles favourite Lambretta Pizzeria.
At College Street’s Octopus Garden yoga studio, there wasn’t much change this weekend because customers have been asked to provide proof of vaccination there since midAugust, said operations manager Alison Krokozynski.
But there’s no doubt, said Krokozynski, that customers are glad to be coming back for inperson classes, rather than stretching along online.
“We’ve had people starting to tear-up when they come in. For most of the last 18 months, it’s been virtual,” said Krokozynski.
While there was some online pushback to the vaccine mandate, Krozynski said it wasn’t coming from Octopus Garden customers.
“We got a little bit of pushback on Instagram when we announced it, but it was mostly from people in Europe and the U.S.,” said Krozynski.
Still, even for businesses which saw an uptick in their bottom line, there was still frustration with the passport system. A particular sticking point? Seeing capacity limits raised for professional sports teams like the Blue Jays, Leafs and Raptors, while restaurants, bars and gyms are still capped at 50 per cent capacity.
“It’s so frustrating that they’re raising the capacity for big companies like sports teams, but small businesses like us have to stay at 50 per cent. It’s just not fair,” said Blanchard.
Last week, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore said the fact that 80 per cent of eligible Ontarians had been double vaccinated warranted raising the cap for indoor sporting events to 50 per cent of capacity or 10,000 people (whichever is smaller), and 75 per cent of capacity for outdoor events.
The last time the Leafs played at Scotiabank Arena, there were just 550 fans allowed in the stands.
Ryan Mallough, Ontario regional director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said it feels like a double standard to many CFIB members.
“They don’t understand why Dr. Moore is saying this milestone means we can open up the biggest places, but the smallest businesses are still stuck at 50 per cent,” said Mallough.
Small business owners, said Mallough, are still digging out from under a mountain of debt racked up during the COVID-19 pandemic, and were hoping for some loosening of capacity restrictions at the same time as the passport was introduced.
Blanchard agreed, and says keeping up with the bills is about to get a lot harder for Lambretta and many other restaurants.
“The subsidies are winding down, and patio season is coming to an end. But I’ve still got to pay 100 per cent of my rent,” said Blanchard.