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Business on the brink: Fighting to keep downtown alive

Most local businesses are suffering these days, and many will close permanently as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns. These businesses are run by your friends and neighbours, and their loss would change Greater Victoria.
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Sasha Appleton, the owner of The Cobbler, poses in her store.

Most local businesses are suffering these days, and many will close permanently as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns. These businesses are run by your friends and neighbours, and their loss would change Greater Victoria. We have asked local business people to describe what they are facing.

A commentary by the owner of The Cobbler in downtown Victoria.

My parents, Ian and Doreen, opened The Cobbler in 1967. Dad has poured his heart and soul into this store over the past 53 years — he always says: “Shoes get in your blood.”

One of the things that this situation has taught me is that shoes are in my blood, too.

On March 18, we closed our doors to protect our employees, customers and community. Like many others, we were not mandated to close, but we knew we needed to.

I’m not an overly emotional person, but I have to admit that I cried a lot. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, but there was no doubt that it was the right decision. We hoped it would be for a few weeks, but as every day passed, it was clear that it would be much longer.

In the evenings, I would thumb through Instagram and see my fellow downtown merchants forging ahead, being creative, delivering orders big and small, not giving up and helping others. It inspired me to do the same.

We are trying so hard to keep downtown alive — not just for ourselves, but also for our employees and our community.

It really is such an honour to stand beside all of these truly incredible people.

In the last two weeks, we’ve been doing what we can to adjust the way we do business. We are working on a website, making deliveries, offering free shipping, etc. Our customers have been amazing — it’s very clear that they are making it a point to shop locally.

I’ve received such kind messages and words of encouragement. My customers and my employees keep me going.

Many stores are scrambling to start websites. With sales at a small fraction of what they normally are, it’s doubtful that many will be able to cover the high cost of rent. Our expenses have not stopped. For stores like ours that offer seasonal product, bills for spring and summer stock are coming due.

Most of the stock is just sitting there. If sales are down 80 to 100 per cent, how will merchants purchase any fall stock? How will they cover their rent? How will they pay their spring invoices? It’s just not possible.

With what the government is offering, it’s becoming very apparent that many small businesses, especially the ones downtown, will not survive this. The answer to this is not more access to debt. We need to ensure that these jobs will be there when this situation changes.

B.C. and the health-care system’s response to this pandemic has been nothing short of outstanding. I think I can speak for many when I say Dr. Bonnie Henry is my new hero. I will be forever grateful to those who are making unbelievable sacrifices to ensure that our health is the most important thing in this situation.

My heart is with everyone in our community and around the world while we deal with these very uncertain times.