Data shows mixed impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Vancouver businesses

A retail location for rent on Robson Street in Vancouver on October 9, 2020.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The pandemic has had a mixed impact on business openings and closings in Vancouver, with data showing there were fewer retail stores and restaurants than before COVID-19, but more offices had opened l ‘last year.

For one councilwoman, the drop in the number of shops and restaurants is an ominous sign and she fears the worst is yet to come as businesses are hit with even more restrictions in the current wave of Omicron.

“I think it’s going to get worse,” Councilwoman Sarah Kirby-Yung said. “It will be difficult for everyone to continue. There was a real blow this time.

But Mayor Kennedy Stewart sees the numbers very differently — as a testament to Vancouver’s economic resilience compared to other cities like Toronto or Montreal.

“What this tells me is that despite the terrible challenges that businesses have faced, we are almost holding on,” said the mayor, who noted that the number of retail operations had dropped by less than 5%, with 3,355 still in operation for 2021. “I suspect there will be strong growth once restrictions are lifted.”

The number of business licenses issued or pending for Vancouver was 58,651 for 2021, compared to 58,851 in 2020, 62,415 in 2019 and 59,788 in 2018. personal care: Beauty services decreased from 124 to 66; cosmetologists to 210 from 339. Short-term rental licenses fell to about 3,900 in 2021 from 6,200 in 2019, a record year.

But many other categories remained virtually unchanged or increased slightly. Fifty clubs received licenses in 2021, compared to 54 in 2018. The number of hotels remained stable between 115 and 120.

The mayor’s optimism is echoed by players in the commercial lease sector.

“The overall theme is pretty good for Vancouver,” said Martin Moriarty, senior vice president of investments at Marcus & Millichap, which specializes in leasing major Vancouver shopping centers. “I’ve been on world calls and there’s never been the panic here that there was in other cities.”

City centers around the world have been “disaster zones,” he said. But Vancouver did not fit this model.

A Vancouver-area retail report from brokerage Lee & Associates, conducted in the fall of 2021, also issued a bullish note.

“Since the third quarter of 2020, vacancy has continued to decline and rents have steadily increased,” said the third quarter summary by research coordinator Macyn Scholz.

“Implementing a vaccine passport meant that indoor dining, concerts and events could return, with consumers flocking to these destinations to make up for lost time.”

Many shops and restaurants that closed were quickly occupied by new tenants, he says in the summary.

But the setback caused by the explosion of a new wave of COVID-19 infections, dominated by the Omicron variant, is making small businesses feel more vulnerable than they did before Christmas.

“Our businesses are resilient, but there’s a bit of fear and worry out there,” said Patricia Barnes, executive director of the East Village Business Improvement Association.

“A lot of retailers were saying that in the lead up to Christmas things were going pretty well. But with restaurants, even before there were restrictions, people were canceling reservations.

In the final days of 2021, other long-standing business closures were announced: Bishop’s restaurant in Kitsilano, beloved nerd bar Storm Crow Alehouse on Broadway, Michael’s and Versace on Alberni Street.

Barnes and many others say businesses in Vancouver are just as threatened by other factors as by the pandemic.

She said the eruption of broken glass, vandalism, shoplifting and graffiti that has hit businesses in her East Hastings stretch, as well as several other business clusters elsewhere, is such a significant setback. than anything else.

“It’s a tough environment.

Ms. Kirby-Yung also said the city’s cumbersome permit system has been a major factor in retail and restaurant operations struggling to open or stay in business.

“We are one of the biggest challenges in not enabling our businesses to be agile,” she said.

The number of retail licenses in Vancouver has been slowly but steadily declining for a decade. There were about 11% fewer business licenses issued in 2021 than in 2013. About three percentage points of this decline occurred in the past two pandemic years.

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