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Victoria economy poised to take flight after strong first quarter, report says

Healthy numbers in just-released study, including upbeat retail and restaurant sales
The number of people visiting downtown Victoria is growing, according to a new report. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Victoria’s economy appears to be rebounding well from two years of economic turmoil due to the pandemic. New figures released this week show the pace of commerce is building, the numbers of people downtown are growing and visitors have returned.

“This particular group of numbers showed a healthy return to good retail sales, very good restaurant sales, hotels are full and people are investing in downtown,” said Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association. “And from our perspective these numbers were collected in advance of tourism season and in advance of a bulk of the office workers returning to the office.”

Bray said this kind of response bodes well for what the city can expect in the summer and fall.

“The trend lines all look healthy,” he said.

The city’s latest economic recovery report noted there were 314,730 more pedestrian trips downtown and nearly 45,000 more on-street parking transactions recorded by the end of March compared with the first quarter of 2021.

At the same time the city issued 7,623 business licences in the first quarter of this year — the vast majority renewed in January — compared with 7,187 at the same time last year while fielding 134 building permit applications, a slight drop from the 139 building permit applications in the first quarter of 2021.

The value of new residential and commercial building permits topped a record $168.3 million in the first quarter this year, up over 57 per cent from 2021 and well ahead of the $64 million booked in 2019.

“The first three months of the year bounced back in a big way as the city emerged from the dark days of Omicron,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.

“These numbers tell the story of our ongoing recovery as more workers return to downtown, the visitor economy revs up, and investor confidence in construction shows no sign of abating. There is still some way to go yet before we are back to where we were before the pandemic, but all signs point to better times ahead for local businesses.”

Bray said the numbers match the stories he has been hearing from downtown merchants and business owners.

He said businesses are no longer hurting for customers, but are definitely short of staff and have managed to handle the new reality of a disrupted supply chain.

“That varies from sector to sector, but it has stabilized,” he said.

“Businesses have found a broader range of distributors, but it’s still a challenge. In many cases there’s inventory and they’ve got it on order, but it’s sitting in a container somewhere.”

Bray said the spring of 2022 feels different from last year, with fewer dark clouds hanging over people. “People are optimistic, they are just hopping busy, quite frankly,” he said. “So I think what independent businesses have probably done is built in a sort of hope-for-the-best-plan-for-the-worst approach.

“I would suspect that lots of our smaller and medium-sized businesses are probably finally enjoying this, creating positive cash flow and some of those good things, but are probably not going crazy on inventory or staffing.

“They’re probably very measured in their financial planning just for that circumstance that if we do get some kind of new wave [of COVID]. But right now I’d say the feeling is generally very positive.”

Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bruce Williams said the region has roared back and is in a good position to really take flight.

“Indicators make it clear that people can’t wait to get back to our vibrant downtown and enjoy all the amazing experiences our businesses provide,” he said.

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