February 13, 2009 Features & Images » Feature Story

Two-week cash grab or business as usual? 

Variety of strategies employed for 2010 Olympics, depending on nature of business

"The Olympics are going to be a little bit like a wedding. They will be the best days of our lives, but there will be a lot of relief after."
- Joey Gibbons

Joey Gibbons, owner of four Whistler bars include the Longhorn Saloon, started planning for the 2010 Olympic about four or five years ago.

He jumped on a plane and headed down to Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Winter Games. While in Utah, he met a man operating a similar business to Gibbons Hospitality. Gibbons hired the man, Kurt Buringham, six months later, and today Buringham is still working with Gibbons Hospitality on Olympic preparations.

"He is running everything now, so I have that insight and those contacts," said Gibbons, who quickly professes his excitement for the Games.

With exactly 365 days to go until the big affair hits the ground teeming with athletes, spectators, international media, sponsors and businesses throughout Whistler Village are taking vastly different approaches to their operations.

Some, like Gibbons, have spent years examining the ins-and-the-outs of what the Olympic Games could bring to their companies. Others confide they have barely started thinking about next February. And still others are hoping to have their store space temporarily bought out by an outside company (although few have been successful so far).

Bob Adams, owner of The Grocery Store, is also one of the owners who went to Salt Lake City and spoke to businesses about their experiences. But unlike Gibbons, Adams is anxious about how the two-week event will unfold.

"I have a great unease about the whole situation at this moment," said Adams. "We don't know what the demand is going to be and therefore it is very hard to plan for housing for extra staff, if required."

Adams said he doesn't know how many visitors to prepare for. However, because his store gets grocery deliveries almost every day, he will be able to change his stock over the course of the Olympics if needed. But, since VANOC has not realized their transportation plan yet, Adams does not know how easy it will be to get supplies up Highway 99.

Adams is not alone in his apprehension. Just across the square from The Grocery Store, Nancy Macconnachie of Ingrid's Village Cafe stresses how uncertain she feels about the Winter Games.

"I would just like more information from the Chamber of Commerce, from Tourism Whistler, and from the municipality as to what days during the Olympics are going to look like," she said.

Macconnachie said at one point she was thinking about trying to cater to teams and serve special breakfasts, lunches and dinners. But she has since found out the athletes' village will have catering on-site, so her service won't be necessary.

Right next to Ingrid's, managers at nightclub Maxx Fish have done some planning. But they do not expect to see any huge swings in revenue over the Olympic period.

"At this point, every night we are running at capacity," said general manager Brenton Smith. "With the possible exception of opening up on Sunday, I don't expect too much to be different."

Smith said Maxx Fish hopes to have world-class entertainment like DJs, bands and "maybe even a magician."

He added that the nightclub was considering staying open to 4 a.m., but because of VANOC's recent decision to move the medals ceremonies from the village, managers are not expecting as much walk-through traffic.

But while many Whistler businesses are examining their merchandise and staffing levels for the 2010 Olympics, there are still lots who have not spent much time planning.

"I don't think with the makeup of our store, there is really anything to prepare for," said Dan Ellis, owner of Armchair Books.

"We don't order this far in advance for our stock. Likely it is going to be the few weeks or maybe months leading up to the Olympics that we start changing our focus."

Ellis said the only change he foresees making for the Olympics is ordering more tourist souvenir books. But, if an attractive offer came along, Ellis said he would consider temporarily sub-letting his space.

According to Fiona Famulak, president of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, about 70 Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton businesses are registered with the Commercial Space Matching Program to sub-let their space. However, no deals have been closed yet.

"I think the people who are looking for space are also being challenged by the current climate," said Famulak.

"They are having to rethink budgets and rethink staffing needs and rethink their requirements, so they are moving forward more slowly than we anticipated."

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