LETTER: Business owner says it’s time to reopen the north

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SooToday received the following letter from JJ Hilsinger, the owner of The Watertower Inn, regarding the opening of businesses in the North:Hello, Premier Ford and MP Ross Rossano and others and related groups.

It’s time for northern businesses to get the green light and open in 10 days or less!

I’m talking about a large, full-service inn, the Water Tower Inn, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. This region is known as Northern Ontario, however, the reference is far from reality when looking at a map of the province. I say this because just north of Toronto, around Barrie, the perception of southern Ontario ends and the north begins…. With approximately 95% of the land mass and with less than a million occupants in the North.

However, the Ontario government never seems to understand the difference in lifestyle, population density and now from our successful containment of Covid-19 in the past 10 weeks in the North.

Our health authorities and front line workers have led the way. We locked in for two and a half months of isolation and we were successful. Now the government should open the door to the opening of small businesses.

This inn currently sells rooms and carries food. However, we must fully open our restaurant and swimming pool so that customers traveling across Canada or those looking for local cations can be served. Additional room sales are essential to our survival. We can count!

Grocery stores have been forced to count but people still bump into narrow aisles. The large multi-product boxes are opened, counting, but after having aligned themselves, their customers gather enthusiastically around the special screens announced. Large industries have never closed. The crowded kitchens of fast foods have never closed. Still no COVID case.

We can count, distance and control!

In our full-service inn, we have acted this way since the doors opened in 1974. We count and control occupants for disruptive behavior in 176 rooms. We are approved for occupancy restrictions by AGCO in our restaurants. Our pools have a declared capacity that we monitor under sanitary regulations.

Now we are in pain, losing $ 7,000 a week after the government pays 75% of our wages and salaries. We have a lot of bills to pay for this 140,000 square foot operation. Big business, medium business, small business … everything is relative. Our guest streams can no longer be closed without stopping because we are restaurants, we are stores with stocks, we are places away from home and places to rest. We can count and we can move away!

In the North, it is time to let people manage their lives again. You gave us the tools, now it’s time to step back. Focus on the congested south. Allow the North to occupy hundreds of acres per person while cities continue to tackle congestion.

The Water Tower Inn has a current COVID policy, frequently acclaimed by our current customers as excellent. We have great restaurants, kitchens and a pool that we want to operate at 50% or less. We have conscientiously supported 14 employees and several hourly employees over the past 10 weeks. Now we want to hire additional staff who need a salary.

We want to open in 10 days with all the other medium and small businesses that serve the public using all our facilities and practice hospitality again, if summer trips develop, while maintaining government rules regarding the maximum number people who can gather in groups.

Thank you for the green light and can we be informed with 5 days notice, we are ready to go!

JJ Hilsinger
The Water Tower Inn
Sault Ste. Marie, ON

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