Without tourist season, outlook 'very dismal,' says P.E.I. wholesaler

A P.E.I. wholesaler is desperate for information about when or if the tourism season on the Island might start.

‘I literally sat down and shed tears’

Tourists are essential to a profitable year for many Island retailers, says Kays Wholesale owner Kim Green. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

A P.E.I. wholesaler is desperate for information about when or if the tourism season on the Island might start.

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed international and even interprovincial borders to non-essential travel, and there are no time frames for when those restrictions might be lifted.

"It's like operating in a big black hole. We have no idea. Is there going to be a tourism season or is there not?" said Kim Green, the owner of Kays Wholesale.

"Without any dates or any time frame, there's nothing. So we can't make any plans. It's day by day."

Sixty-five per cent of the businesses that Kays supplies are closed or operating at a fraction of their normal capacity, said Green. It's creating a big cash flow problem for Green, because inventory for the summer season has already started to arrive.

"I saw $13,000 worth of ice cream cones that I had to preorder come through my door last week, and I literally sat down and shed tears because I'm just not sure I have a market for them," she said.

As shortages become evident, Kays Wholesale is doing what it can to fill the supply. (Tracy Lightfoot/CBC)

Green estimates she has about $1 million in inventory ready for the tourist season. That tourist season, for her and her customers, is the difference between making a profit on the year and not.

"The winter season is not usually profitable and the summer season is what usually carries us through the year," said Green.

"Without a summer season the outlook is very dismal. We depend on those tourists."

The busiest months for retail on P.E.I. are July and August.

Supplier troubles

Green said the federal wage subsidy has been crucial for her to keep going, and she has been trying to take advantage of opportunities as they emerge.

There have been well-publicized shortages of some items: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, flour, yeast. Green expects baking powder will be next. But she is competing with wholesalers across the country for those items.

"You expect a truck. The truck doesn't show up. You expect a shipment, half of what you ordered doesn't show up," she said.

"Suppliers are coming down hard on us. They're asking for payment up front in some cases because they're nervous about being paid as well."

Waiting to open

Green expects her company will survive, but she is concerned many of her customers won't, and that is making it very stressful to go to work in the morning.

Many of them are seasonal businesses, who would in a normal year be preparing to hire, cleaning up their properties, and ordering stock.

This year they don't know when, or if, they will be able to open. And if they can't open this year, they can't be sure if they will ever be able to open again, said Green.

What they need now more than anything else, she said, is some idea about when the restrictions that threaten the tourism season might be lifted.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning


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