“There are more cars on the street than I thought there’d be,” noted Stewart Fells before crossing Hudson Avenue to get started on his last work day before closing his downtown Salmon Arm restaurant indefinitely.
It was just after 8 a.m. on Monday, March 23, and Fells and his team at Hungry Panda were going to be spending the day preparing meals for delivery to use up the food they had on hand before the closure. Already there were large signs in restaurant’s windows announcing, “Closed until further notice.”
Similar signs could be found in the windows of restaurants and other businesses throughout the downtown announcing closures or adjusted business models, all in support of the effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
As of March 24, the business association Downtown Salmon Arm reported 35 of its member businesses had closed their doors, with 16 offering a modified business model and six having moved to online sales.
Fells was concerned about the impact all this would have on small businesses, especially if they must remain closed for a prolonged period.
“We’re a small operation with some dedicated staff and we’re doing our best to take care of those staff at this time,” said Fells. “I think we’ll be alright if it’s two weeks or a month. If it’s beyond that, I really don’t know.”
Home delivery is another option people are looking to. However, Salmon Arm Panago franchise owner Greg Williams said he too has been impacted by current events.
“Our day to day life has changed quite a bit,” said Williams. “We’ve seen about a 35 per cent drop in customers over this time last year, and even beginning of the month to the end of March.”
Having stepped up an already strict sanitization policy, and operating with less staff so that those who wish to self-isolate can do so, Williams hopes to continue operation as long as possible, considering it essential to those who may not have time to cook.
“We see a lot of truck drivers come through here, a lot of front line workers, a lot of deliveries to pharmacies and things like that for people that are still going 40-hours a week or more to help everybody through this,” said Williams. “So essential in a sense that we provide a service that a lot of people are taking advantage of. ”
As always, working behind the scenes to support local businesses is the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society (SAEDS). In response to the COVID-19 crisis, SAEDS has been having weekly teleconferences with 20 or more community organizations and service providers to share updates on what’s happening in the community and what supports are being made available. SAEDS has also been reaching out to Salmon Arm businesses directly to discuss what they’re experiencing and offer support.
SAEDS economic development manager Lana Fitt said the number one concern heard from businesses was keeping employees safe. Second to that, from businesses in Salmon Arm’s industrial park, was keeping supply chains open so they could access products needed to stay operational. And from the city’s agricultural sector, available labour was a pressing concern.
To make it easier for people to find and support local businesses endeavouring to stay open, SAEDS introduced the hashtag, #ShopShuswap. For restaurants, the hashtag #goodfoodtogo is being used.
Fitt said strategies are being considered for when the crisis is over, something that will be discussed more over the coming weeks. Currently, the priority is addressing the immediate needs of businesses.
“If we haven’t got to you yet in terms of business owners in the community, please reach out to us if you have a need we can support you in,” said Fitt, adding SAEDS phone number, 250-833-0608, remains active. “We want to help businesses in anyway we can.”
Fitt invites residents and business owners to subscribe to the SAEDs newsletter (at the bottom of the SAEDS website) to keep on top weekly updates around COVID-19.