The Merchant General Store held its grand opening March 12 only to shutter March 18. The business shifted to offer essential groceries and reopened May 1. (Courtesy Sandy Black)

The Merchant General Store held its grand opening March 12 only to shutter March 18. The business shifted to offer essential groceries and reopened May 1. (Courtesy Sandy Black)

Victoria program helps businesses shift swiftly in wake of COVID-19

Bring Back Victoria helps businesses open patios, create welcoming, safe spaces for customers

Local businesses credit a City of Victoria program with enabling swift shifts in services to help foster success despite a worldwide pandemic.

Launched June 8, the Build Back Victoria program was created to support businesses during the reopening and recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides several temporary initiatives to allow businesses to create space on sidewalks, streets, parking spaces, and in plazas and parks to expand their footprint to safely conduct commercial activities.

In mid-March the health authority set out closures across the province to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

READ ALSO: Pedestrian advocate says pandemic has paved way for more walkable communities

For Sandy Black, that meant a grand opening and sudden closure of the Merchant General Store within a week. After working with Island Health and bringing in some ‘essentials’ including milk, butter and eggs the shop reopened May 1.

Similarly Mesa Restaurant in Fernwood closed for a bout a week to adapt to new regulations, that included a shift to takeout and came at a cost to the bottom line.

“Sales were OK, still down considerably, until restaurants were given the go ahead to reopen with social distancing measures; which in our case didn’t really apply to the space very well,” said owner Neil Davis. Provincial distancing requirements mean only two tables inside and the Build Back Victoria program was crucial to survival. Now with 30 seats in Fernwood square, staff are back and Mesa is open five days a week.

“It has given us a chance to plan for what we might be able to do in the fall and winter months. It has been a welcome lifeline for businesses such as ours,” Davis said.

While they lament the loss of cruise ship traffic, cross-border tourists, downtown office workers and high traffic events, others are stepping up, Black said.

READ ALSO: Cancelled cruise ships costs Victoria more than $130 million

“What we are seeing are our wonderful locals, Lower Mainland guests and tourists from Alberta, Saskatchewan and others parts of Canada. Many of these folks have never been to Victoria or haven’t been downtown for years. This program puts in place an improved experience for those guests that are here and hopefully has created a new driver to help the local businesses generate a little more revenue than they otherwise would have and allow all of us to get through this thing together.”

With fears of a fall return of COVID-19, Davis feels the reactions of society and governing bodies are key.

“I don’t think we are out of the woods yet and a lot of people in the industry are viewing this as a transitional shift within food service in general. The industry already had flaws and COVID-19 brought them to light. I would hope that we can get really good at tracking outbreaks so that areas could thrive without restrictions, and then shut down completely and short term if an outbreak does occur.”

Black feels the next step is to invest in more permanent hard landscaping, appropriate planters, seating areas and a more programmed approach to entertainment. “When tourism comes back in whatever form it comes back in we also need to ensure that businesses in the downtown core are not missed,” he said. “The ultimate goal would be that through design and programming the entire area will become a vibrant, exciting and busy hub attracting locals to enjoy their downtown and all tourists to experience the ‘must see’ old town stroll.”

The Business Hub at the City of Victoria – the primary contact to receive applications and works alongside the transportation, engineer and parks departments – received more than 50 applications for the Build Back Victoria program within its first month.


 

Do you have a story tip? Email: c.vanreeuwyk@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Coronaviruslocal business

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The Merchant General Store held its grand opening March 12 only to shutter March 18. The business shifted to offer essential groceries and reopened May 1. (Courtesy Sandy Black)

The Merchant General Store held its grand opening March 12 only to shutter March 18. The business shifted to offer essential groceries and reopened May 1. (Courtesy Sandy Black)

Just Posted

Victoria police are asking for help locating Jordan Doddridge who is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
VicPD seek help locating man wanted on Canada-wide warrant

Jordan Doddridge has an extensive criminal history including violent offences

SD62 says parents of kids who have problems with bus stops and pick up times should reach out to their transportation department to find a solution. This comes after a Grade 10 student attending EMCS in Sooke found out he had to walk 45 minutes to get to the nearest bus pickup. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bus route mishap leaves EMCS student walking 45 mins to pickup spot

Sooke School District willing to work with family to find solution

As of Nov. 24, all group fitness classes at Saanich recreation centres have been cancelled and a mask mandate has been implemented amid new COVID-19 public health orders. (Black Press Media file photo)
Swimming, skating continue at Saanich recreation, exercise groups cancelled

New mask mandate implemented for all common spaces

Mandy Farmer, CEO of Accent Inns and Hotel Zed, was given the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Excellence Award on Wednesday evening. (Provided by Deepa Pillay)
Accent Inns, Hotel Zed CEO earns prestigious award

Mandy Farmer wins RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Excellence Award

Central Saanich Police impounded two vehicles in less than hours for excessive spending Monday evening and Tuesday morning, handing out $1,185 and 15 points in total fines during some nine hours. Both incidents happened at intersection of Highway 17 and Island View Road. (Central Saanich Police/Twitter)
Central Saanich police hand out almost $1,200 in excessive speeding fines

One driver received 12, the other driver three points

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

BC Teachers' Federation President Teri Mooring is asking parents of school-aged children to encourage the wearing of masks when possible in schools. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
LETTER: Teachers union encourages culture of mask wearing in B.C. schools

BCTF President Teri Mooring asks parents to talk with children about wearing masks in school

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

(Pixabay)
All dance studios, other indoor group fitness facilities must close amid updated COVID-19 rules

Prior announcement had said everything except spin, HIIT and hot yoga could remain open

B.C. Liberal interim leader Shirley Bond speaks to reporters from Prince George via Zoom conference, Nov. 24, 2020. MLAs are being sworn in for the legislature session this week, many of them also by video. (B.C. legislature)
B.C. Liberal leadership contest will wait for election post-mortem

Interim leader set to face NDP on payments for COVID-19

Product Care offers more than <a href="http://link.mediaoutreach.meltwater.com/ls/click?upn=pDYyTceU0YgTDdsd92GohdQJsmSiPFEkcB4MdMM0Qkoqb1aJA-2By5aWklKJXV6QRdyTteNjr2FccUOVLUe4t5Zw-3D-3D1ds-_KVyBcpjXADXifSWVpM8nQcAzSm9-2B6fEFnjVrTsOcu31irDHDxi5k0QTOIWCqMXUxaNbrf0yRzXSSpROCkfx3NkUtbr65Dkcw1J0by-2F-2BDdDiJGbcfhtjHWYSs66NwakeCCLYkj20e9ICIZsLcedqNZKBhsN0sGgBsInpdzsddYikUZkmQvFdxLJhakpgAA6aAJ5ScUoWR6vO9sM819vRB-2F6x7dsdfIaWa4ZgHxR4G7hauxgSJCsNI2bP5J62EFfM0aiDqRPwUPUjt7i5-2FMqpdJxrEBewnLky-2B3lE0JAmi5UsJBkJejuLOjsndZz4b7dNgbvt6KyewKuF0sxU2rpYgkAO9YAKc9STuFJd28Qn7jE0-2FqlB8HKOvpW150NHS-2BOMBcK5rkZ8YAuPqJy11k-2BgndiKB-2FWl2icAfbWtRGJPb8fM-3D" target="_blank">150 free drop-off locations</a> in B.C. (Pixabay.com)
Recycling broken or burnt string lights can reduce holiday landfill waste

In 2019, Product Care Recycling diverted more than 11.6 million light bulbs from landfills

Helen Watson, posing for a photo for her 100th birthday, turned 105 on Saturday (Nov. 21). (File photo)
B.C. woman who survived Spanish Flu turns 105

Helen Watson has packed a lot into life – including being in two pandemics

(Black Press Media files)
B.C. to test emergency alert system on cell phones, TVs, radios on Wednesday

The alert is part of a twice yearly test of the national Alert Ready system

Most Read