Summit Bread Co. owner Brendan Foell, left, with crew member Vince Cherlet are “still rocking until the wheels fall off…”; selling handcrafted bread and pastries on Tuesdays and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Tofino businesses grapple with what’s to come in a summer without tourists

“We are not going to be as busy as we were. People aren’t going to travel like there were.”

Sea glass trinkets and artsy, organic cotton ‘I Love Tofino’ t-shirts sit idle on shelves. Locals cling to the surf at Cox Bay, yet the lights are still out at Long Beach Lodge.

Canada’s surf capital remains closed to tourism.

Summit Bread Co., a haven of handcrafted breads and pastries, won the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award for Best New Business last year. Owner Brendan Foell says he was working towards an equipment and capacity expansion in 2020.

“Within a couple days, I had to pull the plug on all of that. It was a really tough decision to make. Now it’s reassessing for the future if it’s something even to consider,” Foell tells the Westerly over the telephone.

In the wake of the COVID-19 business closures, Foell trimmed his bakery down to a skeleton crew and reduced his bakes from seven days a week to two. He said he is just breaking even.

According to a recent survey of 1,284 member-businesses of the BC Chamber of Commerce and partners, only roughly half (53 per cent) of businesses surveyed expect to reopen once restrictions are lifted, while 38 per cent are unsure, and 8 per cent will not reopen.

Attracting customers, notes the BC Chamber, was the key challenge identified to restarting businesses.

Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce executive director Jen Dart thanked local business owners who contributed to the process of gathering information so the government knows where they need support.

“The results of the survey are difficult to read, but are reflective of what we are seeing and hearing from local business owners. For most small businesses there is a small window of time that they can survive under these conditions, even with the current government programs. Our seasonal tourism sector is going to be especially hard hit and in order to survive will need specific support from government, much like flood and fire affected communities have received,” said Dart, adding that she is encouraged by programs like the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA).

“It shows that the government is listening to what businesses are saying they need,” she said.

READ: Businesses hard-hit by COVID-19 to get 75% in rent cost relief: Trudeau

READ: B.C. business, local governments get further tax relief

Foell is trying to wrap his head around what the future is going to look like.

“Making the assumption that things will return to the way they were as soon as there is a vaccine or restrictions are lifted I think is irresponsible to think as a business owner,” said Foell.

“We are not going to be as busy as we were. People aren’t going to travel like there were. Restaurants are not going to be able to operate the same way as they were before. Level of disposable income won’t be the same,” he continued.

Foell is transitioning Summit Bread Co. towards a more staple / essential business model.

READ: Restaurants pivot to groceries, cater to community amid COVID-19 woes

“This is a good opportunity to take a step back and evaluate the last couple of years. It’s an opportunity for everyone to assess how they were doing business before and how they want to do business in the future,” Foell said.

The baker urged business owners to prioritize paying their suppliers over anything else.

“It’s a hard decision to make, but if you only have ‘X’ amount of dollars in the bank you really need to prioritize paying your suppliers just to make sure they don’t suffer as well,” he said.

Summit Bread Co. is doing about 20 per cent of the business they were doing last year, notes Foell. He said he has taken out $60,000 in cash flow emergency loans.

“I wish I could be open more at the moment,” he said. “But not knowing how long this is going to last, I need to make sure myself and my small team don’t burn out. We are just trying to balance sustainability with smart business choices.”

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READ MORE: Tofino considers building more “equitable” economy as part of COVID-19 recovery

READ MORE: Plan in the works for safe re-opening of B.C. restaurants amid COVID-19: BCRFA

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