(Downtown Victoria / Jay Wallace)

A new report from the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) is crediting changes to business models such as e-commerce as well as government funding for Victoria’s COVID-19 resiliency.

Data from the DVBA’s 2021 survey and report suggests that the city was not as severely impacted as other municipalities during the worst points of the pandemic.

According to figures the DVBA pulled from the City of Victoria Business License database, the number of new licenses issues in the city declined by 18.1 percent from 2019 to 2020. Renewals of licenses increase by 2.4 per cent. Overall, this represents a decline of 1.5 per cent in the number of business licenses year over year.

“It is heartening to see that decline was not drastic and indicates ongoing health in the economy, or at least a belief that a healthy economy will return,” the DVBA states in their report.

There were, however, a number of closures, with downtown retail vacancy rates increasing from 3.1 per cent in 2019 to 6.4 per cent in 2020. This is still an improvement over a five  year low of 8.5 per cent in 2015.

“Happily, we are not, at the time or writing this report, seeing a notable number of
additional closures,” the DVBA stated.

In terms of how businesses were able to weather the storm of COVID-19, many indicated they had adapted their model to include e-commerce, delivery, or other changes like a virtual office.

Government subsidies were also credited for making a significant impact. The programs which received the highest marks from local businesses were:

  • Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) (53.5%)
  • Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) (49.9%)
  • Canada Emergency Business Account interest-free loan program (39.4%)
  • Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) (25.1%)
  • BC Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant Program (21.0%)

As business looks towards a period of hopeful recovery, however, challenges remain.

Survey respondents highlighted that cleanliness and security are now top issues, with a majority (62 per cent) stating they spent more on crime reduction in 2020 than in past years.

Staff were also laid off at a majority of businesses. 33 per cent of businesses reported a reduction in staffing levels of 25 per cent or more, and 25.8 per cent of businesses also saw up to 25 per cent of their staff cut back.

It’s all led to an overall reduction in satisfaction with Victoria as a place of business. In 2018, nearly half of businesses rated Victoria a “B+ or better” as a city to do business in, while in 2020, 52.2 per cent rated it “B, C+ or C.”

Nevertheless, DVBA Executive Director Jeff Bray maintains that the chief reason Victoria saw resilience in the pandemic is because of the stability of the region overall.

“This is one of the main reasons, despite COVID-19, that our 2020-2021 data does not change drastically overall,” he said.

“Revenue and employment data do, but most others have only changed slightly. That small
change may even be considered somewhat surprising. That bodes well as we are not yet
into the recovery phase of the pandemic.”

The full DVBA report is available online at www.dvba.ca/report.

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