HALIFAX -- Even as life slowly returns to normal for many Maritimers, it's not the case everywhere -- and for everyone.

A significant number of public servants are still working from home and businesses in downtown Halifax say they're sorely missed.

That's prompted the Halifax Chamber of Commerce to call on the government to lead by example.

Even at the height of the workday lunch hour, Stephen and Benita Shaw had no problem getting prime seating at the iconic Bluenose Restaurant.

While grateful, the experience does seem a little odd.

"We were discussing that earlier and there seems to be nobody walking around," Stephen said. "Like you walk through the waterfront, and we might have seen one other couple."

Benita is used to larger crowds at the restaurant.

"You always had to wait a little bit to get in," she said.

But not right now, as many who are trying to make a living in the downtown core have observed.

Almost everyone agrees it's the glaring absence of thousands of government workers who have yet to return to their downtown offices fulltime.

"When you look at the stats, our estimate is it's between 20 and 25 per cent of folks are back at their desks on a regular basis," said Patrick Sullivan of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

Not so, says the province, which says nearly 80 per cent of workers are back at least part time, and now that schools are open, even more should be making their way back.

Officials are quick to add workplace returns do vary by department, and even divisions in some cases, and a significant number never left.

"At the Halifax chamber of commerce, we came back to our office on June 1," Sullivan said. "We came back in stages, but certainly by the end of June, everyone was back at the office, and we operate safely. I would think they could do that in government offices, since Dr. Strang is available for their call."

Others want government to step-it-up, too, noting businesses are already paying dearly for the privilege of opening their doors.

"Out of all the major cities in Canada, businesses in Halifax paid the third highest tax rate, the third highest property tax rate, and it's about 40 per cent over the national average," said Renaud Brossard of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.