April 14, 2020
AS EDITOR OF FOCUS, I get numerous press releases from the provincial government every day. The two at around 5:30pm announce the latest stats. Today’s noted there were 27 new cases for a total of 1,517 cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia. Only 89 of those cases are on Vancouver Island (i.e. Island Health Region) and no deaths. There have been 72 deaths in all of BC.
We seem to be doing really well compared to many places in the world. Is it because we introduced social distancing quickly and thoroughly? I wish we could test everyone and just quarantine those with the virus. I hear an Ontario company is starting to ship tests that can be done within an hour or so. I hope they can ramp up production to test everyone. Fast. We are killing so many businesses and jobs in the meantime.
Failing mass testing, we need that vaccine. Until one or the other is found and distributed, the economy really can’t get going again and, of course, the recession or depression will not turn around overnight even then. If a vaccine takes a year or 18 months to develop, how many local businesses will still be standing? Many of the small ones (except grocery stores) will have given up unless, perhaps, their rent is paid by the government. I have been surprised to hear how ungenerous most commercial landlords are. Don’t they get it? They have good tenants who, through no fault of their own, have no revenue. Those landlords won't be able to find other tenants anytime soon. Why can’t they share the pain a bit? Perhaps some will, but others are forcing their tenants to close down, perhaps declaring bankruptcy to get out of their lease arrangement.
If anyone knows of landlords forgiving rent, please let me know; I’d love to tell their story and hold them up as an example of corporate generosity and reasonableness.
Small businesses (1-99 employees) in Canada employ 70 percent of the labour force; in BC it’s closer to 75 percent (2017 Stats Canada). Overall, small and medium-sized businesses contribute about 50 percent of Canada’s GDP.
They are also the ones that understand the importance of supporting the communities they reside in. FOCUS, for instance, has relied on them for 32 years. When Stephen White of Dance Victoria told me how that organization had much better success attracting donations from this community’s small businesses, as opposed to large corporations, I totally related.
Beyond the economics, small businesses add texture, vibrancy and character to our communities. Imagine downtown Victoria with only large chains occupying all those spaces in Old Town and along Blanshard, Douglas and Fort Streets, or in Cook Street Village, or Oak Bay Village. They wouldn’t be as interesting, as appealing, or as friendly.
It was hard enough for local businesses pre-pandemic with more and more people moving towards online shopping at places like Amazon. Right now, with so many local businesses offering online services and personal shopping by appointment, it seems especially important and easy (and safe) to shop local!
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