C/O Ainsley Thurgood

The return to in-person learning in winter 2022 also means the return of students supporting local businesses

Whether it be for a coffee run at Paisley’s or a pitstop for pho at Saigon Asian Restaurant, Westdale Village and the businesses located there are staples within the McMaster community. However, Westdale’s streets lined with red brick houses and tudor-style architecture have been devoid of the hustle and bustle of students since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Now, Westdale’s businesses are eagerly awaiting the return of the students for the in-person winter 2022 semester to bring life back to the streets of Hamilton.

For businesses in the Westdale area, the COVID-19 pandemic came as a double hit to their operations. Not only were they affected by provincial regulations limiting their services, but McMaster’s transition to online learning also meant businesses in the area lost large portions of their clientele as student leases were terminated and students went back to attending school from their childhood bedrooms

Back in October, McMaster finally announced that the Winter 2022 semester would be fully in-person and students should expect to be back on campus in January of the coming year. To ensure safety and comfort in the return to campus, Back to Mac COVID-19 training is mandatory for all students and access to McMaster facilities will be restricted to those who have uploaded proof of vaccination and completed the MacCheck assessment tool.

Though many students have already returned to life in and around campus, the transition from blended to fully in-person learning is bringing the remainder of McMaster’s student population back to the Hamilton area. Even with the partial return over the last few months, Westdale’s businesses have seen drastic changes.

“Westdale isn't the same without students there . . . Come January, learning in-person will help even more as we depend on students for both business and community,” said Mohammad Emami, the owner of Nannaa Persian Eatery in Westdale.

Overall, the sentiments of business owners towards the return of students have been resoundingly positive.

“The support has just been amazing since [students] have been back and it's nice to see the village lively again,” said Leo Tsangarakis, CEO of The Burnt Tongue.

However, many businesses are still itching for the full return of students to the area. Westdale Pilates, which opened just over a year before the beginning of the pandemic, has had to make extensive changes to its operations due to the lower population in Westdale and provincial guidelines. The pilates studio has shifted to smaller class sizes and more therapeutic classes, especially private sessions. 

Though the small classes have allowed them to put more of a focus on individual growth in class, the studio has had to increase their pricing in order to sustainably stay open. Without the traffic of students, taking classes at Westdale Pilates has regrettably become more inaccessible than pre-pandemic, with increased pricing and fewer student discounts. 

“There’s not a lot of undergrad students coming to classes. Previously, with mat classes being more financially accessible, I could fill them with more people. That would mean I could drop the prices and have a lot of student discounts, but right now only having four people in class, as sad as it is I can’t drop [prices] as low. It has to make financial sense for me to pay people to instruct at the same time,” said Karina Vohle, the owner and founder of Westdale Pilates.

As students return to the area, businesses are beginning to see increased traffic, slowly but surely lifting some of the financial strain caused from operating through the pandemic.

Beyond students, Westdale businesses also largely employ McMaster students to keep their businesses running. At the heart and soul of their operations lies students who have been absent from the area for far too long.

Soon to once again be home to students and families alike, the streets of Westdale are yours to explore. Support local businesses while fueling your craving of the day — whether it be caffeine, bubble tea, korean rice dogs or good old-fashioned soup and a sandwich.

“Now that things are going back to normal, I would encourage [students] to really explore the neighborhood. Westdale has a lot to offer, whether it's restaurants or the coffee shops around the Westdale area. Take advantage of the fact that things are going back to normal and explore the neighborhood and what it has to offer,” said Emami.

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