Times Colonist

Vic­to­ria re­tail­ers see light and dark this sea­son

- AN­DREW A. DUFFY aduffy@times­colonist.com Business · Retail · Shopping · Consumer Goods · Black Friday & Cyber Monday · Industries · North America · United States of America · LEGO Education WeDo · Cincinnati · Centre · Winnipeg · Toronto · Bray · Holmes · Hillside

Grim, dark, buoy­ant and op­ti­mistic. Those are some of the de­scrip­tors be­ing thrown around the city th­ese days to de­scribe the re­tail land­scape as Black Fri­day sales hit across North Amer­ica.

Nor­mally a time for re­tail­ers of all stripes to make hay — and in some cases a chance to bank a mas­sive chunk of their an­nual rev­enue — the run-up to Christ­mas this year has a very dif­fer­ent feel to it thanks to the pan­demic.

“It’s grim,” said Dale Olsen, owner of Out­looks for Men in Vic­to­ria’s down­town core. “And ev­ery time you get an an­nounce­ment [of re­stric­tions], it sort of sets it all back again.”

Olsen will lose two ma­jor money-mak­ers this year: his an­nual Boxing Day sale, his big­gest sin­gle event of the year, and the large trade he does deck­ing men out for Christ­mas par­ties. He said moth­ers buy­ing sweaters and socks for their sons will not re­place guys get­ting them­selves a new jacket to im­press at the of­fice Christ­mas bash.

Vic­to­ria down­town re­tail­ers, who rely heav­ily on of­fice work­ers and tourists for much of the year, have been par­tic­u­larly hard hit this year.

Teri Hustins, owner of Ka­boo­dles toy store and Os­car & Libby’s gift shop, said on top of tourist traf­fic dis­ap­pear­ing and the fact that there are few of­fice work­ers in the core, busi­nesses have been fac­ing sup­ply-chain is­sues.

Ka­boo­dles, for ex­am­ple, had its en­tire Christ­mas Lego or­der can­celled.

“When 10 feet of an 1,100-square-foot toy store is de­voted to Lego, you won­der what are you go­ing to put on those shelves,” she said.

How­ever, Hustins said, the year has not been as bad as she thought it might be, which has given her some hope for the Christ­mas sea­son, when the store does about a quar­ter of its to­tal busi­ness.

She said they man­aged to pivot and go on­line early on, which has paid off a bit.

“And I think the mes­sag­ing to lo­cals of the im­por­tance of our small busi­ness com­mu­nity has re­ally res­onated with Vic­to­ri­ans,” she said. “We are get­ting lots of email with peo­ple say­ing they want to keep their money lo­cal.”

Jeff Bray, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Down­town Vic­to­ria Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion, says that’s what keeps him “cau­tiously op­ti­mistic” about the rest of this year.

Bray said the com­bi­na­tion of busi­nesses quickly find­ing their way to on­line plat­forms and lo­cals em­brac­ing the idea of shop­ping lo­cal could translate into a de­cent Christ­mas sea­son for some stores.

“The other thing is peo­ple are com­ing to re­al­ize that the down­town is an out­door mall,” he said, not­ing shop­pers can walk around with­out masks un­til they en­ter a store, café or restau­rant.

Bray said while the lack of tourists and work­ers down­town is clearly hav­ing an im­pact, he has heard some stores have been busy.

Re­tail­ers such as hard­ware stores, lum­ber yards and fix­ture ware­houses are do­ing well as peo­ple take on ren­o­va­tions as they spend more time at home, while bike stores have been hav­ing trou­ble keep­ing up with de­mand.

“There is some op­ti­mism out there,” Bray said.

Ecol­o­gyst, for ex­am­ple, man­aged to keep the lights on by de­vot­ing its ef­forts to on­line busi­ness. The re­sult was 135 per cent growth in e-com­merce rev­enue to about $1 mil­lion in on­line sales this year.

Sa­man­tha Holmes, owner of Bolen Books at Hill­side Shop­ping Cen­tre, said they have also caught a whiff of op­ti­mism.

“We are do­ing all right, ac­tu­ally,” she said, not­ing the store reg­u­larly has lines at its front door and has grown its on­line traf­fic.

“And since the mask man­date came through, things have been a lot bet­ter stress-wise,” she said. With every­one now hav­ing to wear a mask in­doors, there is less con­flict and tur­moil, and staff and cus­tomers both feel good about the 50-per­son limit in the space.

She said peo­ple have be­come fo­cused buy­ers and tend to be there to buy rather than browse.

Olsen said Vic­to­ria re­tail­ers have it pretty good com­pared to other parts of the coun­try or the U.S.

“I sit here and thank God I’m not in Win­nipeg, Peel Re­gion or Toronto,” he said. “You live in fear of be­ing told three weeks be­fore Christ­mas that you have to close. I can only imag­ine what that’s like.”

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