The closure of the Roxy Theatre in Revelstoke caused by COVID-19 is one of the longest since it opened 82 years ago.
“We usually only close one day a year. On Christmas,” said theatre owner Tammy VanSickle.
The Roxy closed on March 17, the day after only 11 people came for a showing of The Call of the Wild, which was a quarter of the theatre’s usual attendance.
VanSickle said the cinema will not survive this shutdown without help and has applied for loans and other government support.
The Roxy is just one of many Revelstoke businesses currently facing uncertainty.
According to a survey conducted by Black Press, of 143 businesses in Revelstoke more than half reported at least 75 per cent loss of revenue. Of that, almost 40 per cent of businesses reported more than 90 per cent loss of income.
On March 1, the 143 businesses reported employing roughly 1,600 people. By April 1, almost 600 jobs had vanished, which equates to one-third of jobs lost since COVID-19 struck.
Uncertainty of business
Nicole Cherlet, owner of Big Mountain Kitchen, said business was already difficult before COVID-19 due to competition from online retailers, such as Amazon.
While Cherlet’s shop is closed to the public, it’s still open for deliveries. However, revenue is significantly down.
Cherlet said her business will also not get through the pandemic without help, but the problem with loans is they have to be repaid, usually with interest.
“And we already have pretty tight profit margins.”
She acknowledges not all businesses are going to survive this pandemic.
“But the people will. It’s important to remember that,” she said.
Mike Brown, owner of the Taco Club, said this winter was shaping up to be record-breaking. Business in February was one of the best to date since the restaurant opened several years ago.
While his business is still open for take-out, Brown said COVID-19 has reduced revenues by 80 per cent.
According to Black Press’s survey, 85 per cent of businesses in Revelstoke are still open in some capacity.
Although Brown is thankful for government support, he notes the measures are not sustainable for the long term.
His restaurant still has a skeletal crew and one concern is retaining staff for when the business fully reopens. Starting from scratch with all new employees would be daunting, he said.
“It would be a huge undertaking.”
While Brown said the Taco Club has seen fantastic growth over the past several years, this pandemic highlights the economy cannot go up forever.
He continued a restaurant’s success depends on people congregating and socializing.
“Many Revelstoke businesses will be in a scary position for the next while.”
Black Press’s survey found 17 per cent of businesses do not know if they will be able to reopen post-COVID-19.
|Chairs are stacked on top of tables at the Taco Club. A lone car passes in the window’s reflection. The restaurant is currently only open for takeaway. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
Yet, the survey also indicated the majority of businesses are confident in their viability to weather the coronavirus storm and just need the green light to reopen. Just under 30 per cent of Revelstoke’s businesses do not intend to apply for aid.
The Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce did find some encouragement in the survey results.
“It paints a picture of business owners that care deeply about the well-being of their employees, who remain optimistic despite the uncertainty,” the chamber stated.
The chamber continued Revelstoke residents can make a big difference to their community by supporting local businesses as much as possible.
Black Press’s survey did not include data from Revelstoke’s three main employers, namely Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Downie Timber and Canadian Pacific.
The big three
Revelstoke Mountain Resort closed March 16, which was 34 days early. Due to the closure, the company said they have experienced a significant loss in revenue and hundreds of seasonal workers were laid off early.
According to a previous email in 2018, seasonal staff numbers were approximately 400.
Before the closure, Kevin Manuel, spokesperson, said the resort was on track for a record year in business and visitation was up, particularly from U.S. residents.
|Angus Woodman of Downie Timber hosted the event. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)|
Manuel said the resort is hoping to open this summer in some form. Whether they will open their pipe mountain coaster or mountain biking trails is currently unknown and will depend on guidelines from the province and Interior Health.
By comparison, not all of Revelstoke’s businesses have reduced their staff. Downie Timber said it has no shortage of work and there have been no layoffs.
“We’re still moving along,” said manager Angus Woodman.
Woodman said the company has not seen a huge change in their customers’ behaviour. Downie Timber’s bread and butter are supplying wood for remodelling and refurbishing projects across Canada and the U.S.
Although many folks are staying indoors, Woodman noted people are still working on their homes.
The company provides roughly 300 jobs in Revelstoke.
Canadian Pacific (CP) announced layoffs earlier this month. During a recent company meeting with shareholders, Keith Creel, president, said CP has laid off 800 workers across the company due to a decrease in trade.
CP did not comment if any layoffs have occurred in Revelstoke.
|According to the Review’s survey, 17 per cent of businesses do not know if they will be able to reopen post COVID-19. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
The future is murky
While Saskatchewan has a plan for reopening its economy and businesses in stages through May, B.C. does not.
Mayor Gary Sulz said Revelstoke’s future is unknown, which is extremely worrisome. Particularly for a town largely dependent on tourism.
According to the 2018 Telus Insight data, during August of that year, 506,000 travellers visited Revelstoke and half of those visitors are from around B.C.
Eventually, government aid will end. Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced rent relief of 75 per cent for small businesses, the program will only cover April, May and June. The 75 per cent wage subsidy also has an end date for June.
“How are we going to come out of this still smiling and glad to be here?” Asked Sulz.
As mayor, Sulz said his main job is keeping people alive.
“If we can live safely, we will cope economically. One way or another.”