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North Shore business community faces COVID-19 challenges

As customers hunker down and businesses are ordered to shutter or curtail their activities, the North Shore’s two chambers of commerce are working overtime to help their members weather the storm.
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As customers hunker down and businesses are ordered to shutter or curtail their activities, the North Shore’s two chambers of commerce are working overtime to help their members weather the storm.

Patrick Stafford-Smith, president of the North Vancouver Chamber, said his top priority has been making sure businesses are doing what they can to contain the spread of COVID-19 and keep staff safe.

But he said the pain in the meantime is palpable.

“Our members are definitely hurting and we are really, really concerned. Everybody knows it’s going to be hard but now is the time we have to call on everyone to help,” he said. “We’re now trying to … specifically help people shift from panic and shock mode into constructive actions that will help mitigate the damage and help them get through this.”

While grocery stores are experiencing a mini-golden age, 90 per cent of others have reported losing business, Stafford-Smith said.

West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce president Holly Kemp said her organization has been focused on making sure everyone knows how they can survive a shutdown and take advantage of the federal aid programs, which she said have been well put together.

“Every time the government rolls out the new benefit package, we’re ensuring that that is on the site,” she said. “They’re looking after everybody. They’re looking out for the individuals. They’re looking after the families. They’re looking after the small businesses.”

Kemp, who is also the manager of Troll's Restaurant in Horseshoe Bay, said she has heard surprisingly little from the member businesses directly.

“Everybody is focused on what they need to do. I’m going into Troll's today to do my final shutdown. I’m closed. We’re on lockdown now,” she said. “What we’re hearing is the same thing that is being said all over the world. You’ve got to buckle down. We’ve got to all adhere to what is being said.”

Apart from dealing with food still in the restaurant, Kemp said she must lay off her 80 employees so they will be eligible for expedited employment insurance from the federal government.

While he’s had a few complaints from business owners who were told by their landlords they would still have to make rent on April 1, those calls have slowed down since the federal interventions were announced, Stafford-Smith said.

Stafford-Smith said he has appreciated entrepreneurs finding creative ways to keep commerce flowing by switching to things like takeout only or home delivery. He added that now would be a good time to purchase gift certificates for local businesses or get to work on future deals that could give an influx of badly needed cash.

Stafford-Smith said the chamber is currently looking for people with creative ideas on how to navigate partial or full closures as well as those with expertise in things like labour law to pass along helpful info to the business community.

When it is all over, Stafford-Smith said he is looking forward to a period of unity that hasn’t been seen in recent generations.

Kemp said she expects it will take a long time of incremental growth following the crisis before things look “normal again.”

“That will take a year. That’s not going to happen in a couple of months,” she said. “Find a routine where you can feel some level of normalcy and just pray to whatever your higher power is for peace and guidance, right?”

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