The recent fire in downtown Victoria at the former Plaza Hotel was a major event. It helped highlight how such incidents impact our small businesses in the core.
For some, the term business owner conjures up the image of the Rich Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly. The reality is different. Some of the businesses within the block of the fire had water damage, smoke damage, and business interruption. Some may not survive.
We are fortunate in downtown Victoria to have our national brand stores, they bring great value and selection, and provide significant employment for locals. But the heart and soul of downtown is our independent, small business retailer, restaurateur, professional service provider, and entrepreneur.
Contrary to the Monopoly game image, most small business owners operate month to month. Once they have paid their lease, staff, inventory, taxes, and insurance, they may or may not have enough to take a draw for themselves. One week’s disruption can be enough to harm them.
The face of small business in the core is someone who has invested much of what they have into their shop. They are moms and dads, grandparents and young entrepreneurs. Many do not have household mortgages because their mortgage is in their store. They make sure to look after their staff; they contribute to local charities; and they care deeply about their downtown neighbourhood. These small business owners are the secret sauce of our downtown.
You see many of these people when you go through their shop door. They work long hours, starting long before their business opens, and staying late to finish inventory, payroll, etc. They sponsor little league teams. They support charity fundraisers by donating prizes; and they take pride in their community. They do this because they love Victoria.
So, when a calamity such as the Plaza Hotel fire occurs, it can be a small business owner who feels it the most. While the street will get back to normal, and the crowds of bystanders will soon fade away, those small business owners will face tremendous challenges getting their businesses back to normal. And it is not just the owners. Staff rely on their retail or food service shifts to make ends meet. For them, a loss of shifts can mean the difference between making rent or not.
So, when a tragedy like this fire happens, we as a community need to visit and support those shops and restaurants in and around the former Plaza Hotel. There’s only one downtown community and businesses are part of our community.
Jeff Bray is the executive director for the Downtown Victoria Business Association.