This article is part of an ongoing initiative to build community resilience in Revelstoke by raising awareness of shared experiences from the COVID-19 pandemic. You will find first hand stories as well as results from the Community Well-being survey.
In being pushed to their edge, businesses who have fully embraced the “COVID-Pivot” have shown incredible resilience, creativity and resourcefulness.
Based on Revelstoke’s official population, 15.4 per cent of residents own a business license (according to WorkBC Revelstoke) – meaning that as many businesses and business owners have been impacted by the pandemic. While we know the tourism industry has heavily suffered (often, with 50 per cent revenue loss and over 50 per cent job loss according to WorkBC Revelstoke) many other local businesses have also experienced losses, having to make the difficult decisions of laying off staff, or even shutting their doors.
Gerda Diderichs, owner of Revy Repairs and Rentals, lost so many sales due to reduced production and people switching to online shopping on Amazon, she had to let go of her mechanics, rendering her unable to take on the few requests for repairs that did come in.
While not reliant on tourism dollars, her business suffered from the pandemic nonetheless, either due to decreased need for repairs, or the inability to get parts and units to sell. She has benefited from some of the resources provided by the Chamber of Commerce and Community Futures, such as the Business Outreach Contractor Carolyn Gibson, a “made-in-Revy” solution that connects businesses with support free of charge.
For Diderichs though, while the various forms of government and business supports were helpful, they didn’t take away the problem.
“We still have to pay back the loans, you know?”
Though she makes the case to buy local to support small businesses, she also recognized the need to adapt to new consumer trends. She is now planning to open a “community garage” in June, where people will be able to rent the space and tools.
“You have to survive. You have to adapt,” she said.
This new community-minded service may bring in less money, but will provide a much needed, accessible service to the community.
“I didn’t have any repairs, so I thought if people anyway repair their units, why not offer room, tools, parts and maybe help,” she explained.
For local outdoor adventure and education business owner, Amy Flexman (Flexpeditions), it was a real challenge to deal with the sudden drop in predictable business.
“The stress behind the scenes of running a business has never been greater.”
For her, constant cancellations, re-jigging courses and lack of outdoor gear availability made it difficult to operate smoothly. Flexpeditions staff had the choice between CERB or work, and much of her core staff remained.
She was able to give back to the community not only in programs, but also by creating jobs and community for people during the pandemic. Perseverance and eventual success after multiple applications gave her hope that she would navigate the “class five” pandemic and stay afloat.
According to Stacey Brensrud, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, tourism plays a key role in our economy, which benefits our community as a whole. For her, the financial well-being of many community members is directly related to their roles as owners and employees in businesses that rely on visitation.
“When visitation is removed from the equation,” she says, “there are many businesses that have struggled financially, which is closely related to emotional struggle within our community.”
Both Diderichs and Flexman said they felt concerned over having to let their staff go. Diderichs had to lay off her mechanics due to lack of business, whereas Flexman the lack of guests and predictable revenue meant a lack in reliable and ideal work for her staff.
“A strong underlying theme is that our businesses care deeply for their employees’ well-being,” says Brensrud. “Business owners value their employees, and they understand that the quality of customer experience is directly related to a strong team of employees. Many business owners retained staff for the sole purpose of keeping them working, to minimize the financial and emotional impact on their staff. There is a strong culture of prioritizing the human part of the equation before the dollar signs. This is not a surprise, as Revelstoke prides itself on our community culture of supporting each other.”
As someone who has recently faced a lot of adversity, the pandemic was simply one more adjustment for Flexman to make. “I started a business in a weird time when [the economy] wasn’t booming, so when COVID happened it felt no more adverse than many of the other challenges I’ve had to deal with,” she said.
However, instead of trimming down the offerings to the most lucrative ones, as business coaches suggest, her “COVID pivot” was to offer more summer camp programs to younger children. “People told me don’t do it because it doesn’t make you money,” she explained, “but I love doing camps!”
For her, the camps allow her to share her passion for the outdoors while providing what she considers a “community service that gives both kids and their parents a sense of normalcy by enabling them to return to work. It also allowed her to keep on some of her staff.
Both Diderichs and Flexman were able to shift their businesses towards providing community-minded services, while also bringing in money for their businesses, ultimately being able to keep, or re-hire staff, helping maintain some of the remaining circular economy in town.
I ❤️ Revy is a collaborative well-being initiative by the City of Revelstoke’s Recovery Task force. This is the third in a series of articles. Together, the I ❤️ Revy team hopes to build community resilience by sharing information, tips, tools, and stories. Contributors are: Taha Attiah, Lisa Cyr, Jocelyn Doll, Benjamin Dorsey, Simon Hunt, Myles Williamson, and Sarah Windsor.
To join the conversation go to talkrevelstoke.ca/i-heart-revy