While entrepreneurs face multiple challenges during the best of times, the COVID-19 pandemic marked an unprecedented test of the local economy. Against this backdrop, the 2020 Readers’ Choice Awards celebrating local businesses and organizations is not just part of a larger historical tapestry, but also sign-posts for the region’s resilience.
“There is just something about, whether it is your customers or your peers, recognizing excellence in their community,” said Denny Warner, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. “That is just something to be very proud off and that is going to be important a year from now or two months from now.” While the pandemic has created a lot of negative headlines, the awards offer an opportunity to highlight the positive.
Warner said awards like Readers Choice are important in times like these. “Some of them [businesses] had to completely change their business model in order to remain viable,” she said. “So it is important to recognize the strength of the businesses that are in the community.”
Warner said that “for the most part” the local business community has dealt well with the pandemic. Initially a lot of retailers thought that they find themselves in difficulties because of the lack of tourists. “But what they found was a lot of support in the community just from residents. So people came out and supported businesses. So that was really helpful.”
In this sense, the pandemic has revealed a sense of loyalty toward local retailers – a sense derived from Sidney’s size. “The fact that it is smaller does seem to equate in peoples’ minds with a sense of safety. So we are more of a destination,” she said.
As such, the crisis revealed something that has always been present. “There has always been this notion in the community that people who live here want to support the people who are doing business here – it is their neighbours, their friends. So there was so much loyalty that doesn’t exist in some larger centre.”
Challenges remain, especially but not exclusively in the accommodation sector. This said, Warner said the pandemic showed the resilience of the local economy. “Even before this, if I had to predict how well the Saanich Peninsula would do, I would have bet on it doing well, because we are very diversified. For a variety of reasons, we are fairly insulated from the kinds of things that would affect a lot of other communities.”
In fact, some of the local businesses did not skip a beat, while others have done very well, said Warner. “People are not afraid to take on new entrepreneurial role because there is this sense of support that exists in this community.”
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