A local business leader says it remains to be seen how COVID-19 will impact the business community on the Saanich Peninsula but she does not think that it will help, especially on the retail side.
“Sales are down,” said Denny Warner, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. “It has just been a challenge for the last little while.”
She made this comment in an interview after the chamber issued an appeal to members for help in developing a list of resources to be shared throughout the community of all the businesses that offer delivery of products or services.
“It’s a difficult time for businesses right now in Sidney, and so we thought we could help by starting a resource that we could keep sharing with people so that you would know what you had access to if you were at home,” Warner said.
While it is not clear how many people in the region currently find themselves in this situation, new cases of COVID-19 continue to appear. Health officials are asking individuals to stay home if they have cold and flu symptoms. Health officials are also asking individuals to avoid large crowds — the sort of crowds that drive local tourist attractions, including the Sidney Thursday Market or global destinations like Butchart Gardens, which also receives a lot of business through the cruise ship industry set to start this April, but already suffering from cancellations.
Princess Cruises recently announced a 60-day pause to global ship operations in the wake of COVID-19, cancelling four Victoria stops.
“I just don’t know how much travel will be happening, at least for the spring, anyway,” Warner said. “We will have to see what happens beyond that, but I think it is going to be a quiet spring in some of these areas.”
She said earlier that the local business community will have to launch a concentrated effort to encourage more local tourism in the expected absence of foreign visitors.
Part of the problem facing the local business community is the fast-changing nature of information about COVID-19 and its broader effects. “There is so much that is unknown about how it is going to impact people,” she said.
This said, it is already impacting the area, including the chamber itself.
“I don’t know about you, but our inbox is full of emails from people who are cancelling events, and who are either in enforced or self-imposed isolation at home,” she said.
The chamber also announced Thursday afternoon that it has suspended all networking, meetings and programming events, while keeping its office staffed. These suspensions impact, among other events, breakfast with the three Saanich Peninsula mayors scheduled for Friday, April 3. Whenever possible, the chamber plans to host meetings by phone or web conferencing.
Warner said the chamber is currently investigating ways to hold its annual general meeting without bringing people together, while still fulfilling its bylaws.
The chamber also issued an appeal to reduce the spread of COVID-19. “Keep your customers and clients safe by keeping your workspaces sanitized,” it reads. “Continue to support local businesses, as for many, their survival depends on you during this uncertain time.”
Ultimately, Warner hopes that the public doesn’t get too caught up in fear. “I just would hate for there to be some businesses that would go under, just because people were too afraid to take their usual precautions.”
In the past, Peninsula residents have shown themselves to be supportive, she said earlier. “I feel like on the Peninsula, we are kind of more interested in helping each other,” she explained. “So I feel like there will be enough people, who don’t get too stuck in fear, and will still be going out to support their local store, their local retailers, their local restaurant.”
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