It’s been a rollercoaster few weeks for Whistler’s local business community, but news of community-wide vaccinations is helping to lift spirits.
“The community is ecstatic,” said Melissa Pace, CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.
“There’s definitely a vibe in the air, and there’s a sense of relief that the light at the end of the tunnel is actually glowing again.”
The good news comes just weeks after the abrupt closure of Whistler Blackcomb and related provincial health orders restricting indoor dining.
“It’s been probably the most difficult time that we’ve experienced to date, because it’s not just the financial hit, it’s the financial hit combined with the constant uncertainty over the past year,” Pace said.
“That places a huge toll on the mental wellness of the business owners and their staff, and especially with the teams, because they’re coming and going, and they’ve got a job and then they don’t have a job.”
The Whistler Chamber is still advocating for local business, Pace said, adding that the new provincial Circuit Breaker Business Relief Grant—which offers grants of between $1,000 to $10,000 for hospitality and fitness businesses affected by the new provincial health orders—is helpful.
“That was a relief for sure,” she said.
“It’s going to put a small dent into the financial hit for the larger restaurants and pubs, because of course to restock their kitchens and their pubs is going to be taking more than $10,000—but it’s a start.”
While the grant will help mitigate some costs for local businesses, a requirement that a business must have more than 99 employees to access the full amount will hinder some of Whistler’s restaurants, said Eric Griffith, chair of the Restaurant Association of Whistler.
But community-wide vaccination is a “huge win” for Whistler, he said.
“We will wait and see how it affects our case numbers. We are hopeful it will help us return to business as usual soon,” Griffith said in an email.
One of the main asks of government—in Whistler and across the province—is for officials to give more notice to business before enacting new health orders.
In the case of the most recent announcements on March 30, many business owners had no notice at all.
“We aren’t optimistic for April 19 reopening for indoor dining, but we hope it will not be too much longer,” Griffith said. (On April 13, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry indicated indoor dining likely won’t resume until after the May long weekend.)
That said, staffing will continue to be an issue for Whistler’s restaurants this summer and beyond, Griffith added.
Recent Advocacy in Action sessions hosted by the Chamber revealed similar concerns from other sectors, Pace said.
“The community is tired,” she said. “Over and over again, the wellness of their staff was top of mind for the business owners.”
And with another busy summer expected, driven by pent-up demand from the Lower Mainland, they’re not likely to get much rest.
“How are we going to be able to manage the volume of people here, knowing that there’s going to be a bigger, more critical labour challenge coming up for this summer?” Pace asked.
“That’s something that the Chamber is taking on right now, is how to support the business community with labour, and what that’s going to look like.”
To apply for a grant a business must confirm it has been affected by the recent provincial health orders; provide electronic banking information; confirm it is registered as a B.C. business; produce a business validation document, such as a business licence, liquor licence, notice of assessment or lease agreement; and confirm majority ownership and operations and payment of taxes in B.C.
Application information and eligibility criteria for the Circuit Breaker Business Relief Grant are available here. Applications are open until June 24.