Taking care of business: Tourism stores look forward to visits from locals

We are rebooting our continuing series on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local businesses. Months after a lockdown and reopening, business people share the experience and their views on moving forward.

A commentary by the owners and operators of seven tourist stores on Government Street — Jill Glowicki and Dean Jackson, and David and Heather Glowicki. The stores include Spirit of Victoria, Pier 815, Northwest Origins, Royal Victoria Gifts, Garden City Gifts, Moose Crossing and Souvenir Outlet.

It’s hard to believe that just over seven months have gone by since our tourist business on Government Street was hit by COVID-19.

I’ll never forget waking up in the middle of the night as things were changing fast back in March and asking myself: “Is this really happening?” The tourism business my partners and I had built up over the past 22 years was facing a pandemic and no one could predict how things were going to unfold.

We were operating eight stores, employing 70 staff members during summer months and 40 staff members in the off season, many of whom had been with us for five, 10 and 15-plus years.

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On March 15, we held a staff meeting like no other and broke the news to our sales team that we had to close indefinitely. We assured them that we were there for them, that we’d weather this storm and call them back as soon as we could.

I remember holding back tears as I read them the definition of resilience. It was one of the toughest days we’ve had as a business.

Tourist businesses in Victoria do the majority of sales May through September.

In a typical year, about 10% of business is domestic, 40% is from Washington state and the rest is cruise-ship and international travel.

We were getting geared up for our busy season after having just come off six months of very little business and paying full rent all winter as the pandemic hit.

As the weeks went on and we learned that the borders were to remain closed and that the cruise-ship season was to be cancelled, we knew we were going to have to batten down the hatches, get creative and more efficient, and find new ways to streamline our business.

We immediately cancelled all orders that hadn’t yet arrived for our 2020 season and cut costs wherever we could. We implemented facemasks, hand sanitizer and other WorkSafe B.C. protocols to keep our staff and customers safe.

Once the wage subsidy program was announced, we were able to bring back more staff and open six out of eight stores. Three out of four of our landlords graciously applied for the rent relief program. Had they not, it’s hard to say where we’d be, as rent on Government Street is not for the faint of heart.

We have since vacated one of our locations due to COVID-19.

In 2019, the provincial tourism industry accounted for $21.5 billion in combined revenue, employed 166,000 people and provided $1.8 billion in tax revenue. Our sales to date during COVID-19 are down 86%.

Remaining optimistic is where it’s at for us, not to mention being grateful for so many things — mostly this beautiful Island we get to call home and which is keeping us all safe during this historic time.

We’d love to see some locals this holiday season.

Please come check out our adorable and cosy pajamas for Christmas, fun novelty T-shirts, socks and sweet stocking stuffers.

Stay safe everyone.

How is your business doing? Let our readers know with a personal commentary. Send a submission in 500 words for consideration to dkloster@timescolonist.com

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