Leah Davis, store manager at Oscar & Libby’s in downtown Victoria, offers up an idea for 2020 holiday gift giving at their Fort Street location. The pandemic has changed the way this retailer and others do business, says owner Teri Hustins. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)

Leah Davis, store manager at Oscar & Libby’s in downtown Victoria, offers up an idea for 2020 holiday gift giving at their Fort Street location. The pandemic has changed the way this retailer and others do business, says owner Teri Hustins. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)

Pandemic alters holiday business strategies for Victoria merchants

Many independent merchants count on holiday shopping to get them through quiet periods

For many independent retailers, holiday gift-giving season is make or break – a time when merchants hope to generate enough revenue to even out slower periods to start the calendar year.

With public health orders relating to COVID-19 changing the landscape of the shopping experience, this year is shaping up to be a very different scenario. With shopping comfort zones varying between people, operators providing clear safety protocols for customers stand the best chance of staying connected to customers, say local retailers.

Teri Hustins, co-owner of the Oscar & Libby’s novelty gift stores and Kaboodles toy shop downtown, is also a downtown resident.

“For me as a shopper, I pretty much spend all my money downtown, and I only shop at places that I feel safe,” she says. “Our approach has always been, if we keep our staff as safe as we can, we will keep the customer safe.”

RELATED STORY: Time to ramp up COVID-friendly shopping: Better Business Bureau

All three shops limit in-store customers to allow for distancing and a sign reminds visitors to wear a mask and hand sanitize upon entry. The store limit renders it virtually impossible to achieve the 25 per cent of annual sales that December typically brings, Hustin says.

That said, the emergence of their online store – set up by a local tech sector volunteer early in the pandemic – has not only helped sales, it gives her customers an alternative to in-person shopping.

At Munro’s Books, customer reviews have indicated appreciation for the safe shopping environment, says managing partner Jessica Walker.

“I think the big challenge for any bricks and mortar retailer is being able to manage physical customers,” she says.

Munro’s, which has high ceilings and good ventilation, allows 20 customers in the store at one time and has a suggested browsing time of 15 to 20 minutes to allow for regular turnover. Masks have not been required, but are now mandatory under the Nov. 19 public health order.

Customers are encouraged to have an idea what they’re shopping for ahead of time, or use online ordering. “Plus, we just got our permit from the city to do curbside pickup. We’re just trying to make life easier for people,” Walker said.

Both retailers voiced gratefulness for residents’ commitment to keeping business at home through the pandemic.

“People are so supportive about shopping local, or shopping downtown this year,” Walker says, “It makes sense, you’re just supporting independent businesses whose staff are local, too.”

Hustins, who is also president of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, sees around her a great willingness to do whatever it takes to provide a valuable service to customers during challenging times.

RELATED STORY: Holiday shopping in 2020 crucial to Greater Victoria businesses

“In our business community we are entrepreneurs, we are resilient, incredibly hard working and we’re problem solvers,” she says. “And we have everything on the line. People’s credit cards are maxed in many cases, and we have no option but to show up and put our best foot forward every day.”


 

Do you have a story tip? Email:don.descoteau@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.  
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

don.descoteau@blackpress.ca

Christmas holidayHoliday givingRetail

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

SD62 bus driver Kerry Zado said it’s common to see drivers lose their patience and pass by his bus while he’s picking up students during the morning commute. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
School bus driver laments motorists who pass while red lights are flashing

All buses in Sooke School District outfitted with stop sign cameras

Victoria police are seeking home surveillance video and witnesses following a prowling incident in Esquimalt Jan. 20. (Black Press Media file photo)
Esquimalt prowler removes air conditioner, peers into person’s home

VicPD is seeking video footage, witnesses following Jan. 20 incident

A cyclist navigates the shoulder in traffic along Oak Bay Avenue in Victoria. (John Luton Photo)
Oak Bay council supports Fort Street bike lanes

Victoria bike lanes would connect to Cadboro Bay Road

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

Victoria police are warning people of a continued rise in cybercrime. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
Victoria police warn of rising cybercrime called spear phishing

Fraudsters continue to trick people out of large sums of money

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New Duncan street signs will be in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional names in First Nations language

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Most Read