This weekend, Open City returns with its annual celebration of local small business. This year rechristened as Reopen City to mark the end of the pandemic lockdown, the event begins tomorrow and runs on weekends until July 19. Some 100 local businesses are taking part.

In May 2012 Gordon Stevens, now COO of Develop Nova Scotia, founded Open City in collaboration from I Love Local Hfx (a group of small businesses). “Reopen City is about inviting the city to come back out and give them a reason to want to explore,” says Stevens. “Whether it’s going to a restaurant and having something to eat, or they are walking by and being entertained by somebody who is making a balloon animal or singing a song.”

There’s a big focus on walking the neighbourhoods, getting out, and rediscovering the city. “That’s always been the way the event has been structured and it actually works incredibly well in a socially distanced world,” Stevens says.

It’s an important opportunity for businesses that are still reeling from the pandemic. “When the bars shut down not only is it the people in the bar who lost their jobs, and the owners who lost a lot of money but the bands who use to play there don’t have anywhere to play, the charities that would run events in those places, no longer had a place to have their events,” says Stevens.

Organizers hope the event will entice pandemic-wary people. “What we’ve seen for the last three weeks is that consumers are kind of holding back,” says Stevens. “There’s a lot of people who are still not comfortable going out. They’ve changed their habits so much. They’ve gotten used to being at home and cooking, and not going out.”

And while getting people out is the goal, safety remains at the forefront. Each business has safety protocols. Many participating restaurants will offer takeout options, available from the sidewalk. Distancing stickers will help direct lineups. Street performances will rotate locations to prevent crowds from gathering.

From now until mid-July, Reopen City will run each weekend, unlike previous one-weekend editions, and have different offerings. One of the first weekend’s highlights is the prom-dress photo shoot at Tall Ships Quay on the waterfront. “Anyone who’s spent the money on their prom dress but has missed out on the opportunity to put it on and get their picture taken,” says Stevens. “Hopefully will have a stream of people in fancy dresses and a stream of people in shorts and t-shirts.”

It won’t be like previous Open City events but the goal is the same. “The importance of celebrating local businesses is really about the quality and variety and the community it captures,” Stevens says.

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