Victoria-by-the-Sea businesses prepare for uncertain tourist season

·4 min read
Eric Gilbert, the owner of Island Chocolates in Victoria-by-the-Sea, P.E.I., is planning to reopen in the coming weeks, with hopes that the Atlantic bubble will keep businesses afloat again this year.  (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)
Eric Gilbert, the owner of Island Chocolates in Victoria-by-the-Sea, P.E.I., is planning to reopen in the coming weeks, with hopes that the Atlantic bubble will keep businesses afloat again this year. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)

Businesses in Victoria-by-the-Sea that rely on tourism are hopeful the Atlantic bubble will still make it worthwhile to open this year.

The bubble has been delayed until May 3 at the earliest, and at least one business in the seaside town that was planning to open next week has pushed that date back.

"It's important to get our staff back to work, but we also need to have some sales to pay for our staff," said Terrie Williams, the general manager of How Bazaar, a gift and clothing store with six P.E.I. locations.

Williams said she was planning to open the Victoria and Borden locations of the store next week, timed to the original Atlantic bubble date.

"If the traffic is not there and the tourists aren't there, even our Atlantic Canada tourists … then it's really difficult," she said.

Terrie Williams owns Tidewater Merchants in Victoria and is the general manager of How Bazaar. She says as a business owner, it’s hard to plan when you don’t know when people will be allowed to visit.
Terrie Williams owns Tidewater Merchants in Victoria and is the general manager of How Bazaar. She says as a business owner, it’s hard to plan when you don’t know when people will be allowed to visit. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Williams also owns another store in Victoria, Tidewater Merchants.

"It's frustrating for sure," Williams said of running a business a year into the pandemic.

"I feel like I'm getting used to it now, like I'm just kind of in that, you know, ready to pivot at any moment."

Up the street from the Victoria wharf at Island Chocolates, owner Eric Gilbert is installing new windows and getting ready to put a fresh coat of paint on his building.

"It's part of our seasonal rhythm to spend March, April, fixing things up, painting, construction, all of that," said Gilbert, who's also the spokesperson for the Victoria Business Association.

Not all businesses opened in Victoria in 2020. Gilbert urges Islanders to come out and support the small businesses in the province so they don't go under.
Not all businesses opened in Victoria in 2020. Gilbert urges Islanders to come out and support the small businesses in the province so they don't go under. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Gilbert plans to open his chocolate shop in the next couple of weeks and said several restaurants in the town will be opening too.

"People are pivoting and trying different things, but it's, there's a lot of stress involved and part of the stress is the uncertainty," he said.

'We barely got through'

There are 17 members in the business association, and Gilbert said last season, several of them didn't open.

"We wouldn't have got through the year without the [Atlantic] bubble last year and even with it, we barely got through," he said.

The Landmark Oyster House is preparing to open at the end of April.
The Landmark Oyster House is preparing to open at the end of April. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Gilbert said the news of the bubble delay was disappointing, but understandable.

"I know people are hurting all over. And it's a real concern, but we'd like to see [the bubble] open if it can be done safely," said Gilbert.

"I need those customers, but I can't risk our community being ill. So we'll do what public health tells us and we'll do everything in our power that we can do and we'll hope for the best."

'These are our neighbours'

Gilbert said another tourist season like last summer could spell the end of the road for some small businesses on P.E.I.

"These are owner-operated businesses. So if we start shuttering some of these businesses, that's not just some chain that's closing and going elsewhere. These are our neighbours," he said.

"I urge all of our community to come out and support us and not just here in Victoria-by-the-Sea," said Gilbert.

"Go to Tyne Valley, go to, you know, go out to these small places and these little towns.… If you don't go this year, you might not be able to go next year because it might not be there."

Wage subsidy helps

Williams hopes some of her stores can open up in May, if the Atlantic bubble opens then.

She also hopes the federal government extends the employee wage subsidy past the end of June.

"That [subsidy] really took the pressure off. It really helped with the bottom line. So I would love to see that, that would be awesome for small businesses and P.E.I., especially all the tourist operators who are trying to plan their summer," said Williams.

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