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VANOC planning for retail presence during Games

'Superstore' ruled out but Whistler retailers still concerned

It is likely there will be a large Olympic merchandise store in Whistler after all.

But it will not be the 20,000 square foot outlet seen at previous Olympics including Salt Lake, U.S.A., Athens, Greece, and Sydney, Australia.

The news that there would be an outlet in the resort is raising the hackles of some business owners.

“I would like them to not have a store here,” said straight-talking Sandy Black, the owner operator of the largest group of independent rental shops in Whistler, Affinity Sports Rentals.

“This is very serious and I am very concerned about our business going through this period.”

Black was also somewhat surprised by the news as he had understood that there was to be no merchandise store following comments made several weeks ago by Jim Godfrey, Whistler’s executive director for the 2010 Winter Games.

“That is contrary to what we were told a month and a half ago…” said Black.

A that time Pique Newsmagazine reported Godfrey as saying there would be no “superstore” but he did say VANOC was looking at other retail options.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Games also acknowledged that it is looking for retail space in Whistler.

Traditionally organizing committees have created Olympic superstores of up to 20,000 square feet to market their goods. But after discussions with various stakeholders, including the Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Whistler and VANOC, the municipality has agreed that the store should be smaller than 5,000 square feet.

“…Obviously for Whistler the priority is our local businesses and our local economy so we did not want to see something that would negatively impact that,” said resort spokeswoman Michele Comeau Thompson.

“We were very comfortable with the idea of something that would complement it but we felt a store around the 20,000 square foot size would just be too big.”

Is it not clear yet if the Olympic store will be in an existing building or a purpose built temporary facility.

Whistler merchants are already part of a first of its kind program to sell Olympic merchandise leading up to and during the Games.

Black said he is planning to condense his ski and snowboard rental business and increase the amount of retail business he does, including selling Olympic goods to offset loses during the Games. He is expecting rentals to be down 60 per cent at Games time and 30 per cent over the 2009-2010 winter.

“…If there is a 5,000 square foot centrally located place then myself and other merchants in town will not sell nearly as much and therefore we will not be able to recover as much of the losses as we hoped,” he said.

Jeff Coombs, co-owner of the two McCoos retail outlets in town, is also concerned.

“I would say they are taking away a tremendous opportunity for the independent retailer,” Coombs said, adding that he has been putting off making a plan to get his business through the Games until a final decision is made on the VANOC store.

“We are already here, we already have the bricks and mortar in place, and we are looking for the opportunity to do some business and proudly sell the Olympic merchandise.”

George Koning of the Whistler Clothing Company, while concerned about the impact on business, said he would accept a large retail outlet as long as it was in an existing space.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with that as long as they are renting existing business space,” he said.

“But if it is a free standing tent coming only for the Olympic period, and milking the community, then leaving again, I disagree with that.”