Last month I wrote about the gradual reopening of our retail and restaurant sectors. It was a period of learning – for both customers and operators – about navigating the guidelines, rules and etiquette of Phase 2 and Phase 3.
I am happy to report that this process went smoothly. Each week, we are seeing more people coming downtown and enjoying the new patios, and re-engaging with all the unique shops we host.
However, as I mentioned last month, the ultimate success of our small and medium businesses this year will rely on office workers – public-sector workers in particular – returning to their offices.
Downtown, office workers buy coffees and snacks, go out for lunch, purchase gifts for themselves and their loved ones, see their massage therapists or hairdressers, etc. These office workers are integral to the local economy, especially outside tourism season.
I cannot stress this enough: this year many businesses’ survival will depend on these downtown office workers.
The provincial government has shown great leadership in modelling the guidelines set by Dr. Bonnie Henry and WorkSafeBC. Most of the employees of the B.C. ministries and Crown corporations continued to work through the pandemic, albeit mostly from home. This was a major part of our successes here on Vancouver Island to controlling the spread of COVID.
Now, we need public-sector employees to lead the way and return to their offices. Of course, for some there will be considerations of childcare or family members with compromised health where working from home remains the best choice. But for many, a safe return to offices is possible. In turn, this leadership can model how private sector offices can also safely return to their offices.
Our local economy will rely almost exclusively on local purchases. That means foot traffic and purposeful buying decisions are key. Evenings and weekends can entice residents from Sooke to Sidney, but during the weekday, it is office workers that fill the void. Those of us who have been fortunate to work throughout the pandemic will play role in helping our small and medium sized businesses survive until we reach Phase 4 reopening.
Downtown is ready to welcome you back.
Jeff Bray is the executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.