‘Five hundred feet away, and they can let people inside, but I can’t?’: Steeles Avenue a frustrating border for locked-down Toronto businesses

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As he ponders his still-empty dining room, Nick Gianopoulos sighs in frustration.

“Five hundred feet away, and they can let people inside, but I can’t? How does that make any sense at all? It’s terrible,” said Gianopoulos, owner of Laterna, a small North York restaurant serving Greek and Italian food.

Laterna, to Gianopoulos’s chagrin, sits just south of Steeles Avenue, the border between Toronto and York Region.

In Toronto and Peel Region, there’s still a stay-at-home order in effect to slow the spread of COVID-19, at least until March 8. On Monday, York Region moved out of the stay-at-home order and into the “red zone,” meaning restaurants could allow indoor dining, barbers could provide haircuts, and non-essential retailers could open up, at limited capacity.

Just a few minutes away from Laterna on the north side of Steeles in Thornhill, Sababa Fine Foods offers a wide array of Middle Eastern foods at its deli counter.

The family which owns Sababa is mulling over whether or not to open up the dining room, now that they’re allowed to have diners inside.

“We’re considering opening up Thursday to Sunday, just to give people some sense of normal life,” said George Azar. “It’s not even about money at this point, because we wouldn’t be making money with 10 people in a 150-seat dining room.”

That discrepancy frustrates Toronto business owners who’ve struggled with various levels of restrictions since the global pandemic was declared last March. It also means, say small business advocates, that Toronto residents will simply head a few minutes north to do their shopping, eat in a restaurant, or especially, to trim their lockdown-lengthened hair.