Downtown businesses show flexibility, creativity during COVID-19, report says

Flexibility, creativity and innovation are a few elements that create a recipe for success for businesses in COVID-19 times, a researcher at the University of Alberta says. 

University of Alberta MBA student compiled report on steps to success

Dozens of patios, such as this one on 104th St., have expanded or opened in areas like downtown and Whyte Avenue since the city loosened permitting rules in May. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Flexibility, creativity and innovation are a few elements that create a recipe for success for businesses in COVID-19 times, a researcher at the University of Alberta says. 

Kennedy Quigley, an MBA student and author of a report released by the Downtown Business Association called "A Resilient Downtown," evaluates what some downtown Edmonton companies are doing to attract and retain customers and what could improve.

"The biggest thing that's been seen across all sectors is just creativity," Quigley said.

For example, River City Revival sent out employees on roller skates to deliver food one day. 

"As a way to just keep up the spirit, stay hopeful and increase pride in our downtown," Quigley said. "I think that those are three things that we really need to focus on for the duration of this really difficult time period."

Quigley interviewed staff or owners at about 15 businesses for the report and has outlined four areas that determine success: innovation, inclusivity, cultural vitality and interconnectivity.

In the report, she highlights specific businesses that have excelled in one or more of these areas, including XTHERAPY Athletics on 103rd Street south of Jasper Avenue. 

"Over a few months, XTHERAPY transformed its business by chasing opportunities, acting strategically and maintaining ties to their community," the report says. 

Tamera Rude, a director at the gym, said they knocked down a wall to create a bigger spin room now with 27 bikes three metres apart. 

"We had to get really creative with that space to be able to host as many riders as possible."

Rude said staff put in extra hours to make things work. 

Tamera Rude, director of impact and operations at XTHERAPY, said they knocked down a wall to make a bigger spin room. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

"We did a lot of the heavy lifting ourselves," she told CBC News. "You just kind of get into this mind frame of whatever it takes and you just kind of get to work."

Nick Lilley, interim executive director of the DBA, said there are many success stories in the area. 

"When we look across our downtown community, [we are] very inspired by the resiliency that's already being shown, the agility and innovation." 

Restaurants in particular, he said, are embracing the patio opportunity.

At the beginning of August, there were 22 extended patios in the downtown core that weren't there last year, the DBA said. 

But the number of businesses that will end up surviving the pandemic is still up in the air. 

The DBA didn't have specific statistics on the number or percentage of businesses that have closed since March, nor projections on what the end of the year may see. 

The City of Edmonton and the Chamber of Commerce also said those numbers may be available at the end of the year.

"It's certainly an evolving dynamic right now," Lilley admitted. "It's going to be something we're going to continue to really monitor and it's going to be an ongoing conversation of 'how can we continue to enhance the innovation, foster that from a broader community level?' "


Online connectivity and e-commerce played and continues to play a big role in adapting to the new reality, the report says. 

Quigley notes that since the onset of COVID-19, there's been a 50 to 70 per cent increase in internet use for online entertainment and shopping.

She recommends local businesses can continue to tap into the increased interest by creating an online experience through teleconferencing, remote consultations, 3D tours and Facebook Live.

Transportation is also an important factor in keeping the downtown alive. The report gives the kudos for protected bike lanes, future LRT, shared roadway and scooters. 

"The scooters, whether you love them or not, give people an opportunity to really engage in a different way," Lilley said. 

Lilley said he wants to see these transportation options continue so people can continue to find their way downtown.



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