British Columbia

B.C. small businesses finding creative ways to stay afloat amid COVID-19

As concerns over COVID-19 increase calls for sanitizing surfaces and social distancing, restaurants and small businesses facing ever fewer patrons are being forced to adapt their business models to stay afloat.

Restaurants and small businesses moving online, offering consumers contactless deliveries and more options

After closing her Spool Sewing Studio due to COVID-19 concerns, Nicole Bertram says she listed her store's fabric for sale online and started offering sewing lessons over Skype. (The Spool Sewing Studio)

As concerns over COVID-19 increase calls for sanitizing surfaces and social distancing, restaurants and small businesses facing ever fewer patrons are being forced to adapt their business models to stay afloat. 

On Friday, B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered all restaurants in the province to stop dine-in services, leaving take-out and delivery as their only options to serve customers. She also said that while many businesses should stay open to support the public, they need to implement social distancing measures. 

And while some businesses had to close up shop for the foreseeable future, many are adapting to the new landscape. 

Moving to deliveries

While many businesses offer customers the option of delivery, for some it's unchartered waters.

East Vancouver's Spartacus Books, an independent bookstore specializing in alternative books and magazines, began offering deliveries on Monday for people that don't want to leave their homes. 

Bookstore volunteer Alexander Daughtry says while in-store business has still been brisk, delivery orders have become popular.

"We've had so many people coming in too, which I didn't expect, so I really can't predict. It's a new situation for us and everybody, and it'll all change if stores are told to close," said Daughtry.

The Megaphone monthly magazine, sold by homeless and low-income vendors in Vancouver and Victoria has moved online. 

"There is a lot of challenging news out there right now, but in many ways this is a happy story," said the magazine's executive director, Julia Aoki. "Megaphone customers and supporters are choosing to purchase their magazines online, showing their support for vendors and ensuring that this important program continues."

Many of B.C.'s craft breweries are now offering delivery, including Persephone Brewing in Gibsons, which began offering the option from Langdale to Sechelt on Tuesday.

Persephone has also partnered with two local IGA stores to offer delivery of grocery orders whether or not people are buying beer. 

"We thought as people can't gather anymore let's bring beer to them, but through that conversation we thought as well why don't we stop at the grocery store and pick up food, especially for people who are particularly vulnerable and absolutely cannot get out," said Persephone co-owner Brian Smith.

Contactless delivery

Delivery from many B.C. restaurants is available from apps like Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes, who offer contactless delivery in which the driver will leave food at the door. 

And Uber Eats has announced they will waive their delivery fee for independent restaurants in Canada. 

At Vancouver's Pacifico Pizzeria & Ristorante, delivery was recently incorporated into their business model. Now it's responsible for the bulk of their income. 

"The steps that have been implemented to prevent [COVID-19's] spread have the restaurant industry on life support. Dine-in business for restaurants everywhere has essentially evaporated almost overnight," said Pacifico co-owner Timea Hynes.  

"We've basically down-tooled to bare minimum staff. We've really been relying on our take-out and delivery service."

In support of limiting the spread of COVID-19, Pacifico is now offering contactless delivery.

Hynes said the new delivery options have been so popular they will likely continue long after the pandemic has passed. 

New offerings

For a very hands-on company, Courtenay's The Spool Sewing Studio is doing their best to make their textiles available through contactless delivery, and offer online sewing classes after closing down their shop.

"Technology isn't my forte. I definitely prefer in-person interactions, which is why I teach people sewing, but my family and I kind of came together and we took photos and got everything up on the site in just a couple days," said owner Nicole Bertram.

"So far we've gotten enough orders to kind of keep up roughly with what we would normally be selling in a week, but for me it's just kind of about making sure we're still reaching out and contacting our community. That's always been more the emphasis than sales, so if we're still making people smile and we're still sewing with people then it'll be good."

Small restaurants and businesses are learning to adapt their business models to suit public health and safety concerns brought about by COVID-19. The Federal Store is tripling or quadrupling the amount of groceries available. (CBC)

In Vancouver, The Federal Store offers coffee, food and groceries, but in the current climate co-owner Christopher Allen says they are expanding their grocery business to satisfy local customers.

"We're trying to within the course of about five days triple, quadruple the amount of groceries we have available for our customers," said Allen.

He says they are preparing pre-made mixes and frozen cookies so people can bake at home.

"It's just shifting what we do and maybe adding on so that people have options, what fits best for them right now."

About the Author

Cory Correia

Video Journalist

Send tips or comments to cory.correia@cbc.ca

With files from Deborah Goble

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