British Columbia

Vancouver businesses expect to struggle in 2021 due to COVID-19

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade says its member businesses are predicting continued challenges in 2021.

Investments in digital technology support will help small businesses survive, says board of trade president

Vancouver business owners say 2021 is looking fairly bleak for their businesses due to COVID-19 after a harsh 2020. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Jennifer McCarthy says the year 2020 has been incredibly challenging for her business, the Bluhouse Market and Cafe, in Deep Cove.

Financial struggles due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions forced her to start a side grocery delivery business to sell more products. 

"We know it'll go on for the next year," McCarthy said, noting the increase in community support that has helped her stay afloat. "We're going to need that support for some time to come." 

McCarthy is one of many business owners in Vancouver who predict continued challenges brought on by COVID-19 in 2021, after so much hardship in 2020.

"I think we all … had a lot of optimism and hope that 2021 was going to look a lot different," Bridgitte Anderson, the president of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, told CBC's On The Coast Tuesday.

"But, in fact, things are pretty much the same … quite bleak," she explained, adding she expects Vancouver's tourism sector, in particular, will continue to be impacted.

A small sample size recent board of trade survey finds that 62 per cent of businesses are still experiencing a decrease in sales, and that only three-in-10 respondents are optimistic about the next three to six months.

Asian restaurants find hope in Lunar New Year

David Chung, the president of the B.C. Asian Restaurant Cafe Owners Association and the owner of Jade Seafood Restaurant in Richmond says the past year has been especially hard for Asian restaurant owners because many of their customers began cancelling their reservations early on.

"We thought they were overreacting until [the government] shut us down," Chung told CBC's The Early Edition, referring to the B.C.-wide lockdown in March, when all dine-in establishments were ordered to close.

He said restaurants at the start of 2021 are making about 25 per cent of what they were at this time in 2019.

"Tables are very small ... we have less than [half] of the people working right now … We just hope we can stay afloat until the summer," he said.

David Chung of the B.C. Asian Restaurant Café Owners Association says while he feels Asian restaurants suffered particularly hard in 2020, there's hope for some decent revenue during 2021's Lunar New Year celebrations in February. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Chung noted that restaurant-owners who have adapted to primarily take-out services will probably fare better this year than they did last year.

He said that with the Lunar New Year coming up in February, he expects to see more customers who are looking to dine out in celebration, and his own restaurant has created a menu with "better dinners" to meet the occasion. 

More businesses to pivot online in 2021

McCarthy sees e-commerce as the saviour for many small businesses in the coming months and wants to see more technological supports for them in the future.

"Anything that can help businesses learn and advance online sales … [especially for those] that may not have had an online component previously," she said. 

Anderson said pivoting online is "by far and away one of the top things that keeps coming up" with board of trade members.

She said that 40 per cent of surveyed businesses revealed they've already invested more into digital technology, while 60 per cent said they will continue to do so in 2021.

"It is really important for governments to understand that businesses need help … in [digital] infrastructure, in digital equity, right across our province," she said.

With files from The Early Edition and On The Coast.

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