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New businesses booming in Sooke, despite pandemic

New business licences doubled this year over the same time last year
Mike Arnott owns Surf & Seek, catering to, well, surfers and seekers of adventure. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Something’s brewing in Sooke where new business licence applications have doubled this year over the same period in 2020 – all amid a pandemic.

Seventy businesses registered to operate in Sooke between January to May 20, compared to just 32 at that time last year. They range from a used car dealership to massage therapy clinics to mini-excavating services to a surf shop.

Why chose to open a retail store during a pandemic that’s ground tourism to a near halt?

“I was nervous as heck opening during the pandemic,” said Chris Forbes, the owner of the newly-opened Fuca Cycles.

But when an opportunity presented itself in Sooke, Forbes jumped on it from Nanaimo.

“We’ve already sold a bunch of bikes, but more importantly, the response of the people of Sooke has been overwhelmingly heartwarming,” Forbes said.

His shop is outside of town near where the Galloping Goose crosses the highway where Seek & Surf recently opened its retail shop in the same building – also where Sooke Oceanside Brewing is moving to this summer.

It’ll be a draw for like-minded people, or so Seek & Surf owner Mike Arnott hopes.

He’d been managing a surf shop in Tofino for several years but wanted to go into business for himself. So when the new owner of the building, who happens to be a wetsuit distributor, suggested that Sooke was overdue for a surf shop, Arnott and his wife ran with it.

Tofino might be a more well-known surf destination, but they say Sooke has even better waves if a little less reliable. The favourite spot is Sombrio Beach along the Juan de Fuca Trail.

Arnott was nervous about stocking up on inventory during a pandemic, but surfing has taken off over the last year, he said. It’s a perfect physically distant sport. The shop caters to surfers and seekers of adventure with clothing, some camping gear and other beach-like accessories.

RELATED: Houses selling for $30K – $100K over asking the new normal, Sooke realtors say

Dan Spicer and Cole Coates, both 34, had also been managing a shop for someone else — a used car dealership in Victoria and wanted to start their own business. They noticed many of their customers were from Sooke, and when they found a property on Anna Maria Road with the proper zoning, they seized it for their new business, 4 Wheel Deals.

The pandemic has been a boon for used car sales, thanks to a global shortage of semiconductor chips backing up the production of new cars. There are piles of new cars sitting outside warehouses waiting for their little computer brains that do everything from starting the engine to turning on those luxurious heated seats.

This makes used vehicles with low kilometres and an affordable pricing strategy — trucks are under $20,000, SUVs are under $15,000 – a hot item.

None of this growth comes as a surprise to the District of Sooke, which saw the trends from a mile away and hired a new community economic development officer this year to help strategically manage the growth.

Sue Welte is developing an economic community strategy with a committee — they meet monthly online, and the public is welcome to join. Their recommendations are in draft form, but Welte said one key focus is encouraging local jobs that can slow the economic leak that happens every morning when hundreds of cars leave Sooke to work in larger cities in Greater Victoria. They want to see more jobs in Sooke to let people live and work here.

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