The stories behind Squamish business closures | Squamish Chief

The stories behind Squamish business closures

Local owners talk about the impact to their operations and uncertain futures

A drive down Squamish streets is all it takes to see that almost all local businesses have been impacted by COVID-19 — either to the point they are shuttered or at the very least, their operations curtailed.

While the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are yet to be seen, The Chief caught up with a few business owners to see how they are doing so far.

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The pilots of Glacier Air have been grounded for almost two weeks.

Owner and chief flight instructor Colette Morin told The Chief that Glacier Air is closed except in the case of an emergency, where they might be needed to provide emergency supplies or transport.

Glacier Air's Colette Morin - Keili Bartlett/File photo

Their in-flight training program is also shut down, as instructors and students can't maintain social distancing while in the cockpit, and flight training isn't an essential service. About 70 students are currently in the program.

Morin said she's trying to hold on to employees as much as she can, keeping everyone busy with painting the offices, cleaning and detailing aircraft.

"I don't know how long we'll be able to do that, with no income coming in ... and with no end in sight," she said.

Other factors are affecting her industry, as Transport Canada issues 90-day extensions for certain license renewals and requirements. But Morin said no one knows if these circumstances will go beyond 90 days.

All of the tours and charter flights have been cancelled and the company has suspended all bookings. Morin said Glacier Air's busy season for tours was just starting, the time of year that helps them recover from slow winters.

"Business is down 100%," she said.

While the pilots could do private flying — going solo without passengers — Morin said it's currently discouraged because of the strain on air trafficking systems and potentially on search and rescue and emergency services.

"On any given day, there are millions of people flying everywhere — normally. These are not normal times."

The last time Glacier Air's flights were grounded for so long was during the 2010 Olympics. But then, Morin said they had advance notice and were able to plan for that period. Even with a defined end date for the Olympics, she said it took the company around three years to recover, especially following the economic crisis in the U.S.

Since then, the business had been on the upswing, Morin said. She predicts it will be another slow recovery for the aviation industry and others impacted by the pandemic. Some may not survive, she said.

"It's not only the job, there's a passion to it," she said. "It's one of those things that you do because you love doing it, and it's just so hard when you can't do what you really love."

Tapped out

Since opening in late 2016, the taproom at A-Frame Brewing has never been emptier. Brewing has stopped.

A-Frame has been closed to the public since March 19, but is now offering delivery of beer to residents in Squamish. The brewery reduced its capacity as of March 16, before closing completely. Hourly staff received lay off notices on the 15th.

Jeff Oldenborger, who owns A-Frame with his wife Caylin Glazier, said they've been able to keep their two salaried employees, the manager and the brewer. As a family-owned and operated business, however, it means Oldenborger and Glazier aren't taking home an income.

From early to mid-March, Oldenborger said they slowly saw a decrease in sales. After closing on the 19th, sales dropped by 70%.

He said they'll need serious financial help from the government, and are waiting to learn more about federal programs for wage subsidies and business relief. 

The B.C. Brewers' Guild has been big help to the industry, keeping them informed with what can help during this time.

Beyond the beer, A-Frame is a gathering place for locals and visitors alike. Normally, all are welcome to come share a cold one and gather around the outdoor fire pits.

A-Frame Brewing Company has been closed to the public since March 19. - Jeff Oldenborger

"We've had to do a complete about-face. We are doing now the complete opposite of what our culture is, by asking people to stay away," Oldenborger. "We're asking people to stay away from our building, but we're also banding together with the local community and asking people to stay away from Squamish."

One source of frustration for Oldenborger is the restrictions being put on small businesses while there aren’t similarly enforced residential restrictions to support keeping people away.

"That frustrates me a little bit, because you're asking the businesses to take on the brunt of closing down my place. Clearly it's a gathering spot… so it makes sense that the gathering holes get ordered to shut, but the people who don't really get the severity of this are still getting together to gather and that's a real concern. As long as people are getting together to gather… it's going to be harder for us to slow this [virus] down."

He said the locals have been great by supporting the online beer delivery system and other small businesses in town. He asks that when residents need something, to buy it locally if it's made or offered in Squamish.

"Don't overspend, don't spend what you don't have, don't buy something you don't need," he said. "But if it's made here, it would really be helping all of us ... survive if it's bought from us."

Pressing pause

After the film and TV industry came to a halt in Vancouver, local production companies felt the immediate effects. Squamish-based Topo Films had all of its contracts postponed or cancelled.

Topo Films, owned by Patrick Henry and Jordie Lepage, launched in 2016 and primarily produces projects for tourism, adventure, automotive and travel commercials or films. They also service the film and television industry.

Henry told The Chief that the silver lining for their company is that some of their projects have been postponed instead of being cancelled outright.

With travel bans and tourism discouraged, it is unclear when the industry partners that Topo Films works with — including Destination BC, the Sea to Sky Gondola and Tourism Squamish — will be back up and running. When restrictions lift, Henry said there might be a push from the tourism sector to get the word out.

topo films
Topo Films has had all projects cancelled or postponed. - Courtesy of Topo Films

"Hopefully, it's not a multi-year hangover from this, but I feel like it's probably going to be."

Henry said they'll be waiting out the pandemic, and will likely apply for emergency relief EI. Since they're self-employed, they don't qualify for the immediate relief for small businesses, as Henry said it targets those with payrolls.

Meanwhile, the Squamish Chamber of Commerce has created a Facebook page "COVID-19 — Squamish Business Operations" to keep residents updated on what's open and when. Find info about essential services here.

~This story was inspired by a database of COVID-19-related information created and shared by Discourse Media. Find more of their work here

*If you'd like to share how your Squamish business has been impacted by COVID-19, we invite you to write a letter to the editor

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