Old Vic Fish and Chips has become the latest storied downtown Victoria business to announce it is closing its doors, but while it may seem like there is an exodus of businesses leaving the area, that isn’t likely the case, according to the organization which makes the health of the business community their business.
In business since 1932, the fish and chips shop on Broad Street will be closing effective Jan. 28, according to current owner Cindy Qin. It wasn’t a decision she was truly ready to make, however it was an inevitable one after the building was approved by the City of Victoria in Sept. 2021 to be redeveloped into a hotel with ground-floor commercial space.
“It feels really sad, and a lot of people who have seen the news have been coming in saying they have been customers since they were kids,” said Qin.
Qin said she hopes to eventually reopen the business, but that would only be possible if a new location could be secured. She said she strongly prefers to reopen the business somewhere in the downtown core, as that is where its multi-generational fans expect it to be, but she acknowledges it may not be possible given the lack of available and affordable real estate.
But while that lack of commercial space in downtown Victoria is a negative for Qin and her business, Jeff Bray, CEO of Downtown Victoria, said it speaks to the strength and success of the downtown business community as a whole, even with Capital Iron and Agrius restaurant also announcing permanent closures in the past few months.
“It’s always sad to see them go, but we still have a relatively low retail vacancy rate downtown compared to lots of downtowns in Canada in the aftermath of the pandemic, and most spaces get re-leased very quickly,” said Bray, noting in 2021 the downtown vacancy rate was eight per cent compared to Winnipeg’s 30 per cent.
Bray said what seems like an uptick in businesses shutting down in downtown Victoria is likely just the regular ebb and flow of businesses in the area simply grabbing more attention than normal because it involves well-known brands. He and his team will be able to get a better sense of whether or not there are any new trends of businesses leaving downtown in the coming months when the final commercial property vacancy data for 2022 is released.
As for what has led to Victoria’s downtown business community being more resilient and successful than other comparable cities, Bray said it comes down to a combination of Greater Victorians’ propensity for shopping local, and the fact that most downtown businesses are independent.
“We have about 10,000 people who live right in the downtown core, so it has grown into a neighbourhood of its own. And as a region, we really embrace the concept of shopping local,” he said. “The unique, independent small and medium businesses which are common downtown tend to be more nimble and responsive to circumstances too.”