Times Colonist

How down­town Victoria is far­ing with re­tail va­can­cies amid pan­demic

- CARLA WIL­SON cjwil­son@times­colonist.com Business · Retail · Infectious Diseases · Travel · Industries · Health Conditions · Colliers · Greater Victoria

Down­town Victoria’s re­tail va­cancy rate dou­bled last year but re­mains low thanks to gov­ern­ment pro­grams geared to back busi­ness dur­ing the pan­demic, states a new Col­liers Canada re­port.

The rate moved from 3.1 per cent in the fourth quar­ter (Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber) of 2019 to six per cent in the same quar­ter in 2020, the re­port said.

That fig­ure would likely have been sub­stan­tially higher if not for gov­ern­ment sup­port which helped re­tail and restau­rant op­er­a­tors, Graham Smith, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent at Col­liers’ Victoria of­fice, said Mon­day..

“Wage sub­si­dies, rent sub­si­dies and other small busi­ness pro­grams have com­bined to min­i­mize the dam­age to down­town busi­nesses,” said Col­liers’ lo­cal re­tail mar­ket re­port for the fourth quar­ter of 2020.

“Some of our more ob­vi­ous holes are down in the tourist area [on] lower Gov­ern­ment [Street], where we typ­i­cally don’t see any va­cancy,” Smith said. “But gen­er­ally speak­ing, most tenants are still open.”

Last week, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced cruise ships would be barred from Cana­dian ports un­til 2022 be­cause of health and safety con­cerns, sim­i­lar to last year. Many of Victoria’s hospi­tal­ity busi­nesses, in­clud­ing ad­ven­ture tourism and at­trac­tions, count on the hun­dreds of thou­sands of vis­i­tors who typ­i­cally ar­rive an­nu­ally via these ships.

“For the tourist sec­tor, it is pretty hard to be op­ti­mistic when you see an­other year of re­ally re­duced sales. That will be def­i­nitely be a chal­lenge for that sec­tor,” Smith said.

“Re­ally spe­cific tourist re­tail­ers are just not set up to pivot to the lo­cal mar­ket in a way that they can achieve any­where near the vol­umes that they do from those cruise ships.”

Greater Victoria’s shop­ping cen­tre va­cancy rate climbed slightly from five per cent in the fi­nal quar­ter of 2019 to 5.8 per cent in same months last year, Smith’s re­port said.

That re­sult was “lower than we ex­pected given the chal­lenges that in­te­rior mall re­tail­ers have been fac­ing.”

“Part of the rea­son for this out­come is once again gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies” and the fact a num­ber of re­tail­ers that are in Com­pa­nies Cred­i­tors Ar­range­ment Act sta­tus, such as Aldo and Le Chateaux, are still op­er­at­ing stores. This may change as things un­fold in 2021.”

Smith is hop­ing the re­tail mar­ket re­bounds this year by the time gov­ern­ments pull back on pro­grams.

“If we can get peo­ple in of­fices in a large way be­fore the fund­ing is with­drawn,” that will give re­tail­ers the op­por­tu­nity to

hang on even if tourism is not fully re­cov­ered, he said.

The state of the re­tail sec­tor will be eas­ier to un­der­stand as the year un­folds and vac­ci­na­tions are rolled out.

There is no ques­tion that a “timely and broad-based vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram will have an im­me­di­ate and pos­i­tive im­pact on sales for re­tail­ers and more im­por­tantly, for restau­rants and hospi­tal­ity venues in Victoria,” Smith said.

“The next mar­ket test will be bal­anc­ing the even­tual pull back from gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies

with an ex­pected in­crease in of­fice work­ers re­turn­ing to the core and tourism grad­u­ally strength­en­ing,” Smith’s re­port said.

“We do pre­dict that this bal­anc­ing act will be dif­fi­cult to time per­fectly for all re­tail­ers, which will likely cre­ate ad­di­tional pres­sures. Ad­di­tional re­tail va­cancy in the lat­ter part of 2021 may be the re­sult.”

De­spite un­cer­tainty, Smith an­tic­i­pates that the mar­ket will main­tain the sta­tus quo for most of this year.

 ?? ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST ?? Busi­nesses down­town have closed over the past year as re­tail­ers and restau­rants face pres­sures brought on by the COVID-19 pan­demic.
ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST Busi­nesses down­town have closed over the past year as re­tail­ers and restau­rants face pres­sures brought on by the COVID-19 pan­demic.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada