There’s a cacophony of excited barking and chains rattling as Eric Marsden gets ready to go dog sledding. Although he has no tours booked at Revelstoke Dogsled Adventures, the dogs still need to be exercised.
While more than one-third of businesses in Revelstoke have lost revenues beyond 50 per cent due to COVID-19, those in tourism are hardest hit. Approximately two-thirds in that sector reported losses greater than 75 per cent, according to a survey by Black Press Media.
In his 12 years of operating, Marsden said he has never had such a slow winter.
“I’ve taken a big hit this year,” he said.
|Competition is stiff in Revelstoke. Due to the pandemic and lack of visitors, owner Goldie Sanghera (left) said her restaurant is empty some nights. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
According to the survey, the 134 respondents provided approximately 1,800 jobs for Revelstoke in 2019. By December 2020, more than 600 positions or 30 per cent had vanished.
“I’m really hoping to survive,” said Goldie Sanghera, owner of Paramjit’s Kitchen.
“Financially, it’s pretty bad.”
While February is usually the busy season in Revelstoke as travelers flock to the resort destination for winter recreation, Sanghera said some nights her restaurant is empty. Although it would make sense to close and wait for visitors to return, Sanghera said she worries customers will forget her eatery and turn permanently to the competitors.
“I have to stay open so people remember me.”
Prior to the pandemic, business was booming; it was the busiest winter since Paramjit’s Kitchen opened in 2009.
“For years, we had it good. Hopefully, one bad year won’t kill us,” Sanghera said.
Almost 30 per cent of Revelstoke businesses said they would not survive the COVID-19 crisis or were unsure, according to the survey.
This is a substantial rise from an earlier Black Press Media survey in April, when only 17 per cent of local businesses were unsure if they would be able remain open post-COVID-19.
A strong summer
While Sanghera said times are tough, last summer was surprisingly busy.
Although traffic along Highway 1 — the main road through Revelstoke — plunged 40 per cent last April, between July and August there were only seven per cent fewer vehicles on the road compared to 2019, according to data from the province.
Travel continued strong into the fall, with traffic increasing by 15 per cent, until new COVID-19 numbers skyrocketed and the province urged visitors to stay home in mid-November.
|The newest 32 unit hotel in Revelstoke Basecamp Resorts opened after the provincial government started urging people to not travel. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
While December data could not be provided for Revelstoke on Highway 1 due to broken counters, Golden saw traffic decrease by 10 per cent overall that month compared to 2019, with almost 30 per cent fewer travelers around Christmas.
“People are listening to the travel restrictions,” said Sky McLean, owner of the new Basecamp hotel that opened Dec. 3.
“It was the worst possible time ever to open,” said McLean.
She said accommodation providers are in a difficult position as they cannot advertise visitors to come, but need them to survive.
“We’re stuck between a rock and hard place.”
Hotel occupancy rates plummeted in Revelstoke by more than 40 per cent in December.
“I’m just really happy we’re still open,” said Peter Nielsen, vice president of operations at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
Contrary to Ontario and France, B.C. ski resorts are open and although total ticket sales this year dropped 65 per cent, Nielsen said season passes are up 20 per cent.
|Snowboarders at Revelstoke Mountain Resort in December. The resort said they are focusing on the local market as travel for recreation is not advised. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
While Nielsen said it was disappointing B.C. extended current health restrictions indefinitely on Feb. 5, it was not surprising.
“Regardless, we are certainly not entertaining closing.”
While COVID-19 continues to hammer tourism, Nielsen expects the sector to rebound.
“All this will pass.”
It’s not all bad
While a pandemic might not seem an optimal time to start a new venture, a record number of 148 new business licenses were issued by the City of Revelstoke last year.
“COVID won’t make me give up my business dreams and put my life on hold,” said new food truck owner Rebecca Roth to the Revelstoke Review last November.
|Rebecca Roth opened a new food truck last November focusing on potatoes. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
Roth said food trucks are perfect for the crisis as they are low cost, outside and mobile. There will also always be hungry people.
Although the majority of Revelstoke businesses reported significant losses, approximately 17 per cent reported economic growth due to COVID-19, according to the Black Press Media survey. This is a sharp rise from April, when only three per cent reported income growth.
Home-building company Absolute Contracting said people are flocking to Revelstoke and because of the limited number of homes for sale, construction is booming as many are opting to build.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in the desire to move here,” said Sally Robertson, owner.
As more people are increasingly working from home, Robertson said people are moving from the city to rural communities to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle.
Cost of COVID-19
The 134 survey respondents said they spent collectively almost $482,000 on new COVID-19 safety protocols. One establishment said they spent $150,000.
“We’re all hurting,” said Mayor Gary Sulz.
|2020 was a record year for new businesses starting in Revelstoke. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
Sulz said council is doing what it can to help, such as proposing minimal tax increases this year.
“While we do what we can for you, you do what you can to keep yourself safe.”
Approximately 63 per cent of Revelstoke businesses have closed temporarily within the last year due to COVID-19, of which 24 per cent closed multiple times and 13 per cent solely due to exposures from the virus, according to the Black Press Media survey.
The pandemic was the push to sell their business, said fitness gym owners Stephanie China and Turner Moyse.
While the pandemic closed Mountain Made Fitness Collective for several months last spring, the owners said this second wave is much harder to weather.
The gym halted in-person fitness classes on Nov. 17.
Although the plan was always to eventually move entirely online with training programs, Moyse said COVID-19 has sped up their timeline.
“Since we don’t know what will happen with the virus, we will just take the next chapter of our life now.”
|Fitness gym owners Turner Moyse and Stephanie China said due to the uncertainty of COVID-19 they decided to sell their gym and move online. (File photo)|
Moyse said he does not expect restrictions to ease anytime soon. It was months before businesses reopened last spring and people began to travel again.
“But there were barely any cases then. Now, there are so many more,” Moyse said.
In the first six months of the pandemic, there were three cases of COVID-19 in Revelstoke. Since then there has been 160.
“We’re in this for a while longer,” said Moyse.
As vaccination shortages and distribution challenges continue across Canada, contagious variants of COVID-19 are starting to escalate and provincial governments must be ready to slam down more restrictions, said Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam.
Her concerns come as Ontario lifts its stay-at-home order, Manitoba allows in-person dining for the first time since November and Quebec re-opens shopping malls and hair salons.
Owner Christin Mccartney of Stoked Sitters, a local childcare and pet care company, said B.C. should follow Australia’s harsh lockdowns.
Western Australia recently went into a five-day snap lockdown after one person tested positive for the virulent UK strain of coronavirus, closing most businesses and schools, forcing people to remain indoors.
If no one in Western Australia tests positive for COVID-19 in the coming days, life will return to what it was prior to lockdown, including crowded cafes, packed football with thousands of fans and music concerts with more than 6,000 attendees.
“Just close the door. Get it done. Be harsh and normal life will return.” said Mccartney.