HALIFAX -- As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, businesses across the Maritimes continue to reopen – but not without challenges. On Saturday, the city of Halifax was abuzz as an event celebrating the local business scene began. However, as many establishments, shops and eateries reopen, some are struggling to adjust to the new normal and make ends meet.

Halifax's Open City event returned as Re-Open City – an appropriate re-brand after COVID-19 left many businesses out of service. After the long hiatus, local business owners are getting back into the swing of things – noting the event is more popular than ever.

"It is safe to come and dine and socialize, and engage in your city again – that's really the message," says chef and co-owner of Chives Canadian Bistro and Two Doors Down, Craig Flinn. "We have the ability to open, but we need engagement and participation."

With many people flocking to the downtown area, the hard-hit economy appears to be receiving the stimulation for which it has been desperate.

"We can't recover from COVID-19, economically, without all of us getting out and supporting local businesses, so this is fundamental," says Halifax MP, Andy Fillmore. "It's wonderful to see the sidewalks full of people, buying local, supporting local business people."

Four Weekends To Enjoy

In light of businesses being down and out for months, the event – traditionally a weekend-long event – has been expanded to four weekends, with over 120 Halifax and Dartmouth-based businesses participating.

"Three months with no business is really tough for anyone to handle – just to come out for one or two days really isn't going to help much," says Develop Nova Scotia chief operating officer, Gordon Stevens. "We need people to keep coming out, not just for the next four weeks, but for the whole year."

Hardships Far From Over

While restaurants and other businesses have been allowed to reopen since early June, some are still struggling to make ends meet.

"Our business has still been significantly down throughout June," says World Tea House owner, Philip Holmans. "No rent relief in July means full Argyle Street street-front rent – which is really expensive."

Holmans was forced to lay off his entire staff and operates his store by himself. However, with the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program having ended, he's not sure how he'll pay rent in July.

"I would like to see the rent relief program extended for a month or two, just to help businesses get back on their feet," says Holmans. "I know the landlords don't like that because they take a 25 per cent hit – but we've taken over a 50 per cent hit."

Physical Distance Presents Obstacles

On Friday, the Nova Scotia government announced restaurants can reopen at 100 per cent capacity; however, some owners say physical distancing rules make it an impossible feat.

"When we removed 50 per cent of the chairs, we did so following social distancing of two metres," says Flinn. "That means it's really difficult for us to add another table into the mix because as soon as we add one more, we break that – we can't do it."

Hope On The Horizon

Despite the many changes and economic punches the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown at local businesses, city officials say it is ultimately up to Maritimers to support businesses.

"There's no question that the local economy has been rocked by this, and unfortunately, some businesses haven't made it," says Fillmore. "But it is the resiliency of the local business community and the loyalty of local consumers that's going to get people through this."

Meanwhile, the 'Atlantic bubble' is providing optimism for businesses hoping to bounce back. Once implemented on Friday, it will allow for travel between the Atlantic provinces – hopefully providing an economic boost.

"We have almost a million people in Nova Scotia, and over two million in the Atlantic provinces, that don't have anywhere to go either," says Stevens. "So, there's no better time to rediscover the things that make Atlantic Canada and Nova Scotia special."

Additionally, on Friday, the province announced that restaurants and bars are permitted to remain open until 1 a.m. and serve until midnight.