Squamish’s Downtown Business Improvement Association (DBIA) president Edward Archibald says that the results from a recent Chamber of Commerce survey, which suggests that local business has been upended by COVID-19, are ringing true in his experience.
The study said that Squamish businesses are being hit harder than the provincial average. According to the results, 94% of businesses in town are currently being impacted by COVID-19. The provincial average was 90%.
“Most of them are closed,” said Archibald on March 30. “Very few are open to walk-in traffic. A number of the retail stores that have closed are offering home delivery and online purchases as well.”
The BIA is hoping to launch an online gift-card promotion to help downtown enterprises keep afloat in the coming weeks. Details are still being worked out, Archibald said.
“Reach out to your favourite shop. If you can’t get a hold of your favourite shop, reach out to the BIA,” he said.
He added that once social distancing measures are removed, the association is hoping to hold a series of concert-type events to help spur business downtown.
They’ll be paying for it with money that was previously earmarked for Canada Day, which has been cancelled.
Louise Walker, the executive director of the Squamish Chamber of Commerce, told The Chief that after looking at the numbers, Squamish seems to be taking a bigger hit because it has a lot of small businesses.
Smaller businesses in town have generally also been hurt more than larger corporations, she said.
She noted the survey shows no larger businesses in Squamish are expecting to see their revenue completely flatline during the crisis.
On the other hand, corporations with one to four employees appear to be the most vulnerable to completely losing all revenue.
“They might be newer…they might not necessarily have multiple years to build up resources,” said Walker. “But they’re also a type of business as well... small businesses might be in food and beverage or retail…People aren’t out as much.”
Others are also reliant on tourism or similarly affected industries, she said.
They also have smaller workforces, which means layoffs affect them more,
She urged people to support local enterprises by buying from them online, ordering take-out from restaurants, and even offering up good reviews. Sometimes a morale boost is needed in hard times like this, Walker said.
Walker is hearing that a lot of businesses are hoping for one particular form of relief.
“The one thing that still keeps coming up is commercial rent,” she said. “There are some things in place to help with mortgages and with residential renters but that commercial rent piece hasn’t really been addressed.”
She said the chamber has launched a follow-up survey that will be asking what kind of help businesses would like to see.
The results of the first chamber survey were presented to council on March 24.
During that meeting, District economic development officer Kate Mulligan cited recent surveys that painted a picture of the virus’s effects.
“I think that the results speak to the composition of our local economy,” said Mulligan, noting its impact on the town.
“For instance, when looking at accommodation services, arts, entertainment, recreation, the construction industry, and food services... the intensity of concentration of the firms are far greater in Squamish than the rest of British Columbia.”
Such industries may be affected by the pandemic more immediately, she said.
The findings were based on a province-wide survey that had 7,900 businesses respond.
Squamish Chamber of Commerce then filtered out the local results and posted them online.
The chamber says numbers have been sent to federal and provincial levels of government to give them an idea of what’s happening.
For Squamish businesses impacted by the pandemic, 84% reported a drop in revenue, business or “deal flow.” The provincial average was 83%.
Locally, 95% of businesses expect a further decrease in revenue soon, compared with 91% province wide.
Similarly 86% of businesses in town expect their revenue to get cut in half or more, while nearly 31% are expecting their income to dry up completely. Province wide, these numbers were 73% and 25%, respectively.
Just over half of the Squamish businesses that responded said they will be temporarily shutting their offices, which is slightly more than the provincial average.
In town, 76% of businesses expect to cut their staff by over half, with 41% saying they will layoff everyone.
Throughout B.C., these numbers were 64% and 25%.
Mulligan said that the municipality can assist by creating roundups of important information for local businesses. There are resources at the District site and she added that the local Chamber of Commerce has done a good job of that as well.
She added authorities hope to continue to survey businesses with follow-up questions so they can use that information for plans. The municipality can work to understand the effects of COVID, she said.
At the moment, staff are waiting for federal and provincial updates, which may guide the way forward, she said.
Mulligan also added that staff are trying to find economic recovery plans for communities that are similar to Squamish that may allow them to get ideas for the next step.