Low tourism and government workers at home contributing to Government Street struggles: report

WatchAs Victoria's economy keeps trying to hang on through the pandemic, a new report says local support just isn't cutting it on Government Street. And one key group of workers, still out of the office, may be the main reason why. Julian Kolsut has the story.

A new report by Vancity and the Canadian Urban Institute has found much of Government Street in the downtown core relies on tourism and one other major group — office and government workers.

The area has seen a decrease in activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The government employees defiantly make up the downtown neighborhood,” said Lee Tanner, general Manager of Frankie’s Modern Diner.

“They are a big part of our day and mid afternoon business, and without them it’s certainly noticeable, I can certainly understand why they are not back in the office.”

The report says business on the block is down 95 per cent. The Downtown Victoria Business Association says public sector employees are critical.

“We are looking at a catastrophic impact downtown. If they can come back and be the local population I think lots of our businesses can ride through this,” said DVBA Executive Director Jeff Bray.

“Nine to five, we are still seeing a real struggle and that is the fact that very few office workers especially in the public sector.

The Ministry of Finance said in a statement to CHEK News that:

“Expect many public service workplaces to continue operating with reduced occupancy capacity to enable appropriate physical distancing… each ministry will decide what balance of in-person and remote work is appropriate based on their operational needs… [they have] long supported  mobile work arrangements where operationally possible…consistent with WorkSafeBC direction, we to support employees who choose to work from home”

They expect many public service workplaces to continue operating with reduced occupancy capacity

“If we don’t have 65 per cent of people back in their offices we are looking at significant business closures,” said Bray.

“We are hopeful the province is developing the safety plans, and there is no plan to not have people come back to work.”

The report also shows Victoria has been hit especially due to the drop in tourism. The block report looked at seven areas across Canada.

“Victoria and certainly Government Street and that neighborhood was hit harder than others,” said Christine Bergeron, Vancity Interim President and CEO .

“So for example where the ones in the Lower Mainland and Surrey-Newton had a bit more local connection, and it looks like those businesses have been fairing better.”

The report also highlights a much grimmer picture for businesses that rely  heavily on tourism, like souvenir shops.

Many are still holding out hope for the province and or Ottawa to step in to with financial aid to help.

But the report also says businesses like Munro’s Books that are “well-loved” are still getting a steady stream of veneue.

The full report can be found here.

Julian KolsutJulian Kolsut

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