COVID rules lock out customers at small business fair

Danika Robson knew the rules for vendors and customers attending the Small Business Fair at the Roll-A-Dome would be different than they were in pre-pandemic times.

She just wishes the same COVID-19 rules that govern food stores in the province also applied to business and craft fairs to avoid the bottlenecks that kept long lines of potential customers for her whole food products shivering in the rain and cold outside the building on Sunday.

Provincial health limits on crowd sizes meant fair organizers had to restrict the number of people in the building at any one time to just 50. Once that limit was reached the entrance door was locked. Those who were not part of that 50-person group were forced to wait another two hours while vendors observed a mandatory one-hour cleaning time period that followed each one-hour slot when the building was open to customers.

“I kind of expected when they announced there would only be 50 people allowed it would be slow, but this is slower than I thought,” said Robson, who drove in from her home in Williams Lake to set up her vendor’s table.

For Robson it was the first time she’s sold her goods at the fair, which she originally signed up for in January.

“If they change the policies I probably would come back,” she said. “I’m just glad it wasn’t a waste of money. I think (the vendor fee) was $60 or $70. I was supposed to go to one in Vancouver in March and that was $700 and they’re not giving any refunds, they’re just deferring.”

Jamie McDonald, a sales representattive for C.T.S. Consultants Inc., was there to try to interest people in registered education savings plans (RESP) to encourage families to save for their children’s education and take advantage of government grants to help pay the cost of post-secondary school.

McDonald said it’s been difficult during the pandemic to market RESPs and try to explain to people how they work. She thought the small business fair would provide that exposure until she saw how restrictive the COVID rules are for vendors and people shopping for goods and services.

“We use these shows a lot to get in front of people and this is a disaster right now,” said McDonald. “They’re only letting 50 people in and closing down for an hour to do a deep clean and nobody’s cleaned anything. No one’s touching anything anyway. It’s ridiculous. Look at Costco.  It should be way busier.

“There are so many people who came and left (without getting in) and probably won’t be back and that’s a huge hit. For everybody here that has local businesses that are making things with their time and money, that’s really unfortunate.”

The fair has been attracting crowds to the Roll-A-Dome since 2015 and is usually held four times per year, in March, July, September and December. The COVID crisis canceled the spring and summer fair and organizers learned about a month ago they had the OK from Northern Health Authority to put on the traditional fall fair. But with strict limits on physical distancing being enforced, just 49 of the 84 vendors the fair usually attracts were there on Sunday.

“Everyone’s concerned that we’re sending people away, but it’s the guidelines,” said Small Business Fair organizer Bonnie Kerr. “They are limiting you to 50 people per event so we had to break it into min-events. There’s an order in there that the events have to be separated by an hour for deep-cleaning without patrons in the building, so we had to do it.

“We’re appreciative that they worked with us and said we could have it but it’s frustrating. Maybe the province will come out with more detailed guidelines that are a little better, especially when the big-box stores don’t have to follow those guidelines, they’re letting way more people in. We’ll see how Christmas unfolds for all the crafters.”

Nicole Mercier had a prime spot on the Roll-A-Dome floor facing the entranceway to sell her baked bread, cookies and churros for her home-based business, Rubi Sweets. She just started her business this year and thought the fair would provide a kickstart, an alternative to marketing her products on Facebook. Despite the customer limits she was hopeful her tables would be empty by the end of the day.

Heather Girroir has had great success in the past at the fair selling her Epicure spices and takes time away from her full-time job at Delano’s restaurant to participate in the fair four times a year.

“I work on Sundays so it has to be worth it to take a day off,” Girroir said. “We had a lot of restrictions but we had our first 50 through and we’ve done OK. My product sells for cheap so it’s usually easy to get the sales. Some of the dips are still the best-sellers.”

Andrea Wood brought her crochet needles and yarn to pass the time productively during the fair’s designated cleaning hours. She works as a photographer of newborn babies and has a baby clothes business on the side, Mama Crochet Co., which sells crocheted baby booties, hats and sweaters. The mother of six expected business would pick up before the 5 p.m. closing time.

“People are sleeping in and going to church, but this day will be different because they’re only allowing so many people in,” said Wood. “At least people are able to get back out and do something.

“I’ve been crocheting since I was a kid but I started this 11 years ago making hats for my own kids and it just kind of evolved. I just decided, with COVID and everything, to pick it back up because I’m a photographer full-time and that kind of slowed down. This started as a side thing for my own children and I just started making props for my business.”

Team Powerhouse Realtor Lisa O’Neill was a first-time Roll-A-Dome fair vendor and she became instantly popular when someone showed up with four boxes of Tim Hortons coffee for her to share with the other vendors. She’s seen other realtors take part in the event and thought it would be an effective way to connect with potential homebuyers.

“It’s not just about getting listings but also people want information on how to buy or what to look forward to because lots of people who don’t know the process and think it’s easy,” said O’Neill. “They think if they make a lot of money it’s easy to get approved (for a mortgage) but it’s a whole lot more convoluted than that. Sometimes even if they make a lot their debt load is too high and there are still struggles.”

O’Neill is just starting her fifth year as a realtor and she says the city’s housing market continues to heat up, with prices jumping significantly.

“We are still finding there’s not quite enough listings,” she said. “People are looking but can’t find what they’re looking for. Either what comes up sells really quickly or there just isn’t what they need. Financing has become more difficult for buyers and even if they think they’re well off they really should get their pre-approvals beforehand because there’s a lot of snags that are coming up. Some of the properties are sitting not because they didn’t get offers but because the buyers didn’t pre-qualify themselves properly. Prices have gone up a lot in the last several years.”




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