As the province’s economic restart continues, a lot of eyes are on downtown Sechelt, one of the Coast’s principal business districts and home to the types of retail and hospitality businesses hardest hit in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sechelt Downtown Business Association (SDBA) president Paul Legge said he’s been impressed with the business owners’ ability to adapt and persevere during the pandemic and to see new businesses moving forward with their plans, including two new restaurants.
Scarlet Osborne and Heidi Murphy expect to open El Segundo at Trail Bay Centre later this month, serving “tropical fusion fare with influences from the Pacific Rim.”
Del and Renu Sidhu, owners of Saffron at the opposite end of Trail Bay Centre, still don’t have a firm date for opening their new enterprise, 22 Taps, which Del describes as a bar with a small dining area, live music and “every local beer we can find.”
It’s planned for the former Gilligan’s location, which is still undergoing extensive renovations.
Opening a new business can be nerve wracking at the best of times, but launching at a time when health officials temporarily shut down most businesses in your sector and are only allowing reopening under strict rules adds another layer of challenges.
“In the past your primary stresses have revolved around finding the right staff and training them and the more operational elements, and in this case we’ve had to change daily,” Osborne said. “We’ve had to adjust what the product is going to be, and how we're going to be serving it and what our standards are going to be.”
She also said the pandemic protocols in the construction trades have meant a few delays, but the work has been moving forward.
One aspect of getting ready for their opening that hasn’t been a challenge for Osborne and Murphy is finding staff.
“I found the hiring pool to be much stronger than I expected,” Osborne said.
Murphy said along with the challenges, she and Osborne will also have the advantage of opening at a time when people are eager to start going out again.
“We hope people’s eagerness to return to their socializing, go out with their friends again and expand their bubbles and be out in those bubbles in a public space actually helps bring people in the doors,” she said.
Osborne, Murphy and the Sidhus said they think a thriving restaurant scene is good for Sechelt and the individual restaurant owners.
“Not everybody's going to come out to Saffron, not everybody’s going to go to the bar every day,” said Del. “If you bring variety it gives more flavour in town, creates more of a buzz.”
Murphy likens it to “filling in the gaps.”
“It’s keeping people in Sechelt, because we’ve added one more place that you can go that you don’t have to leave town for – ultimately bringing in more Sechelt dollars and keeping them here,” added Renu.
Osborne said the pandemic has also renewed people’s understanding of the importance of buying locally.
“I really enjoyed watching that happen not just for our sake but for the whole town’s sake,” she said. “I think people really understand the value of keeping their dollar local. I think that's a key change which is a positive outcome of all this.”
Legge said the SDBA’s goal for downtown Sechelt in the recovery is to create an “experience” for people who come downtown and new businesses like El Segundo, 22 Taps, and the recently opened Nourish Juice Bar and Eatery on Teredo Street, are a big part of that.
“We're trying to get people out of their car to walk around and engage with all the businesses,” he said. “New businesses bring new ideas, there’s a new energy.”