If you can, support local businesses as they navigate phase two of B.C.’s restart plan – that’s the message Chamber of Commerce CEO Catherine Holt is emphasizing as the city begins to reopen. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

‘Come back downtown:’ Victoria Chamber of Commerce encourages public to support businesses

CEO Catherine Holt says businesses navigating lack of tourism, new protocols

As barber shops, boutiques and restaurants begin to remove the shutters on their windows and look into the light of a post-pandemic future, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce urges locals to support the business community.

“I’m very hopeful and I’m certainly encouraging the public to give all these businesses a chance,” said Catherine Holt, CEO of the Chamber. “Try them out, definitely support them. Come back downtown and to your local mall and anywhere else you used to do your shopping, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Give people a chance to figure it out and see what they can do.”

May 19 marked the beginning of the second phase of the B.C. government’s restart plan with medical services, retail businesses, hair salons, barbers, restaurants, museums, art galleries, libraries, recreation facilities, work sites and child care encouraged to open with enhanced safety protocols in place.

The government is still asking people to stay close to home and avoid non-essential travel between communities.

READ ALSO: Downtown Victoria could become an ‘open-air market’ for the summer

Holt says the region’s businesses owners are grateful the second phase is moving ahead, but are still navigating the new chapter, something that will require patience from patrons.

“There is a sense of optimism. But there’s a very, kind of concurrent feeling of unease or uncertainty of the unknown,” said Holt.“When it comes down to your own place of business, your employees, your specific services, everyone is trying to figure it out for themselves at the same time,” she said. “You see some businesses that maybe have gone extremely far in the public safety direction and some that seem quite relaxed in the public safety direction.”

Even as the province takes a step forward, Holt said some of the physical distancing and patron limits coupled with a non-existent tourism season are causing concern for many business owners.

“A lot of them are having to reduce the number of customers in their store or the number of diners in their restaurant and that has a big impact on revenue,” she said. “I think the other feeling of uncertainty is, can they make it with these restrictions in place. They’re going to be discovering that as they go over the next few weeks and months too.”

Holt encourages residents to embrace local businesses and a rarely-seen tourist-free city. She said the summer months – along with support from Victoria council – open the door for more outdoor retail and dining experiences.

“Retail goods can be outside, restaurants can serve outside, people can take meals to go. Because thank god, its the summer, we’ll have more options with regards to how to use public space,” she said. “I don’t know what we’re going to look like for the fall but if we are adaptable and we do take advantage of the weather, I’m hoping we will see a lively, busy downtown where people are able to do a bunch of their buying and entertaining and their meals in a new way.”

READ ALSO: Victoria businesses open as province enters phase two of COVID-19 response

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nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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