COVID-19 Recovery Meeting : Retail – April 21, 2020

3 months ago

The Prince Edward Chamber of Commerce, The Picton BIA, and The Municipal Business & Economy Task Team, in cooperation with the Municipal Community Services, Programs & Initiatives Department, have partnered to bring more coordinated resources to the business owners of Prince Edward County during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Part of the strategy to provide resources, and to have a line of direct contact with the business community, is a series of Industry-Focused Meetings which will take place via Zoom on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 10am.

COVID-19 Recovery Meeting : Retail – April 21, 2020

Sarah (Picton BIA) – Greeted the group and went over terms of meeting

Lesley – (PEC Chamber of Commerce) Thanked everyone for joining us for the meeting and mentioned that we are conducting surveys. Thanked everyone for helping by taking those surveys and advised we will share info with our members and will try to get back to people who have requested it.

Phil (Councillor) – Thanked everyone and handed call over to Mike to mediate to make sure we keep meeting on track

Mike (Councillor) – he advises that he will facilitate the discussion and advised the purpose of the meeting. We want to understand the recovery phase and what it will look like. He says if we are at a red light spot right now we want to be prepared to move to a green light spot when the health authorities advise us to.

Diana -Green Gables – Top 3 issues facing retail:

  1. Trying to keep small amount of cash flow coming in while the business is closed through online promotions
  2. Trying to deal with inventory and vendors – how much to invest, how to move forward and how to be ready to reopen again
  3. Trying to figure out what the reopening will look like – the new reality that may be required with social distancing in their location

Mike – Do you think these are the main issues for most retailers?

Diana – She can’t say for other retailers but for them the cash flow, the inventory questions (they’ve missed the spring season and still have the inventory). She thinks the online options and the shop local options are great but she is concerned that people may not move from online back to in person shopping

Alexandra -Gilbert and Lighthall and Magpie clothing store – Top 3 issues facing retail:

  1. She has two locations – so different issues for each store. Her concern is the retailer community in general and them having the support to continue to offer a solid experience and how do we support this in the recovery
  2. She believes that the shop local option is good but how do we bring people back into our shops and how do we build on any goodwill we have in the community to do that
  3. She feels she is fortunate and she wants to make sure that the businesses who are not in as good a position have the support/advocacy to help them

Mike – Commenting on the concern/issue of how we support the retailers. He asked Diana or Alexandra for the personal experiences with the employer/employee funding options and if those programs are working and being utilized.

Diana – Regarding the employee wage subsidy – there is no work and they are closed so they cannot use the wage subsidy. She says once they reopen is when they will need help and if they could access the wage subsidy once they reopen it could assist them. She feels that is when the wage subsidy will become important.

Alexandra – agrees with Diana

Mike – Let’s look to the recovery phase – how we can advocate to the provincial and federal governments to assist in the recovery phase? What would the principals be regarding reopening in terms of social distancing and what is the acceptable level of risk and how do we get there? Diana – thoughts on this?

Diana – To clarify – you want to know how the municipality can help and advocate? She referenced something that was passed about 10 years ago called the CIP (Community Improvement Program). That would give the municipality money to offer to businesses for recovery. She feels the municipality needs to look at what they have available and what they can access from the province and federal gov’ts as the municipality doesn’t have unlimited funds either. She suggests that the County look to assisting the retailers with stickers on the floor to direct people and work with how to flow people through their businesses.

Mike – says he feels the County can help with stickers and such and looks to the retailers to advise on what they need.

Alexandra – she would like to see some guidelines regarding clothing – if someone tries something on what is the guideline to how long to keep the item off the floor after they have tried it on. She thinks it is really important that they do get assistance and guidelines regarding how many people in the store at a time maybe related to square footage, etc. Also assistance on employee training and sanitizing guidelines and masks and gloves. Guidance from the County, BIA and Chamber to suggest.

Mike – do you have some specific ideas that you would like to recommend?

Alexandra – She says she will encourage her staff to wear masks. She will be putting a sanitation station at the front of the store and will encourage people to use them

Mike – back to Diana – what do you think the principles or best practices will be?

Diana – she thinks Alexandra covered most of it but she does feel every business will be very different. She is concerned that since the guidelines will be Provincial they may not take into account the geography and unique needs of boutique businesses in these small older homes in rural areas. She is also concerned about the logistics and the staffing requirements since they may need more staff and the costs associated with that.

Mike – can you give us what you think would be the point of view of customers?

Janice –The Local Store - she is concerned as the science isn’t out there yet to determine how long the virus lasts on clothing. She hopes that there will be guidelines but she thinks everyone has got the idea about social distancing. She feels that this will be up to the province and the federal government, not up to the County to decide.

Mike – he says he wants to make sure that they know the issues to anticipate and advocate to the Provincial and Federal governments to inform the decisions that will be made.

Janice – still doesn’t feel that it will be up to the municipality and it will be determined by science

Mike – lets open this up, we want to hear your considerations as we have connections and relationships with ministers, etc.

Vicki – Arts on Main Gallery – her comment is on funding, as she says they will not qualify for any of the funding for staff as they are a collective. She references Trudeau’s announcement for funding and says she has contacted Neil Ellis and Todd Smith and would like to see if the County could give them anymore info on how to access it. Concerns over how to pay rent when they have no revenue.

Lesley – advised that she has spoken to the ministry and she understands they are still working on how to implement funding (that Vicki referenced above) it so info will be forthcoming. She asked a question of the newer businesses to advise what is or isn’t working and what can be done to assist.

Dawn – The Yellow Studio – As a new business she has put a lot of money into a retail space that is not operating as a retail space, so it sucks. She fortunately has another business she has been running previously that is going quite well from her old studio but she is really concerned about rent relief. She would like the Chamber or the BIA to point her in the right direction to look for assistance with rent relief.

Maxine – The Blue Sail - we were opened for about 11 days and had hired people who are not working anymore. They are not entitled to any funding. We’ve investigated some of the funds through PELA and we feel it doesn’t apply since it is essentially a personal loan. Very frustrating.

Anne – Savon Du Bois – she hadn’t had time to build a large loyal following in the County since she and her business were new to the area. She does feel that the small amount of support she has had has been tremendous. She’s had online sales and that is great even though it is small. She suggests building on the online sales and delivery through the shop local option. She thinks we should do more to encourage the shop local online/delivery option. She also agrees with Dawn as she falls through the cracks and qualifies for no programs. She is concerned about more debt in the form of government aid. She also agrees with Diana that there may be a need for more staff when they reopen and that means more money and where do we get that?

Mike – Does any of this lead you to rethink your business model in some way?

Anne – she had already started taking the business down a new direction. The hardest issue she has with all of this is the distance and issue of contact with the product as most people want to touch and smell the products she sells.

Diana – Tricky part is for a couple of years PEC has been experiential so a lot of businesses have been about touch and feel. She wants to make sure we don’t lose any of that. She suggests having more things out of doors at their businesses to encourage customers out into the street even if not into the stores. She thinks the County assisting in facilitating that would help.

Mike – Can anyone build on Diana’s thoughts?

Sylvain – Millefleurs – We understood when we opened last year that we needed to have a strategy since we are farm based. Without the foot traffic we are devastated. We are looking into online options. All the solutions that are available to us are not helpful.

Mike – So what you are saying is the programs don’t take into account the seasonality of businesses in our area

Sylvain – Many people who are not in the 3 major city centres need help as wekk

Mike – Anyone else – how we can contribute to assistance

Robyn – Jeffrey Scott Menswear - Part of our business model was doing small community driven events in addition to our barber shop. Unfortunately with the social distancing this eliminates these options. What if there was a program for a promotion to shop local like a buying passport to encourage shopping local with an incentive factor? Also feels they are going in circles and wants to know how they can work more closely with the Chamber and BIA for assistance and they will reach out to those organizations

Debbie – I own Nourish the Soul, my store is very much about touching, smelling and classes. People contact so she has tried not to do readings online but she is not sure how to go forward.

Sarah – Thanks everyone for sharing their ideas. She mentions that Sandy Abbott will have more information regarding federal funds shortly. She advises that notes from this meeting will be available on the Chamber website and will be distributed through the Community Development email. She also encouraged people to add their info to the shop local website.

Lesley – Reiterated Sarah’s comments and encouraged people to reach out to her via phone and email.

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