At Nelson City Council’s Oct. 13 meeting, city planner Sebastien Arcand presented some statistics and observations regarding Nelson’s response to the pandemic so far.
He reported that the city in collaboration with the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce conducted a COVID-19 survey of businesses recently and received 100 responses.
Some of the highlights were:
• Over half of businesses reported that the summer season was as busy or busier than last year,
• 34 per cent of businesses reported their revenues were in the range of 51 per cent to 75 per cent when compared to 2019,
• 39 per cent of businesses reported staffing levels of 100 per cent when compared to 2019,
• 41 per cent of businesses reported a “slight increase” in operating costs due to COVID-19 protocols,
• 60 per cent of businesses are using government support,
• Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) were identified as the most used government support programs,
• 28 per cent of businesses anticipate lay-offs or reduced operations if government programs expire,
• 24 per cent of business are uncertain about the next three-to-six months while 25 per cent are anticipating that things will be similar to the past three months.
Arcand said these results were surprising after the dire predictions of last spring.
“One of our main concerns was what happens to Baker Street if businesses get boarded up,” he said. “But that has not been the case.”
He said a number of city policies helped.
“Waiving fees for sidewalk cafés and increasing patio sizes is an example of successful adaptation,” he said. “A business owner anecdotally mentioned that it increased his revenues by 20 per cent when compared to last year.”
Building permits and real estate sales
Arcand said that so far in 2020, more building permits have been issued than in 2019. He pointed out, however, that although there were fewer applications in 2019, several of those were for large multi-unit developments. The number of applications for single-family units is up slightly this year from 2019, he said.
“A local hardware store owner has mentioned that this has been the busiest year he has ever seen.”
As for real estate sales as an indicator, Arcand said that so far this year home sales are about the same as at this point in 2019.
He said there are no hotel occupancy statistics available, but he reported a Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism (NKLT) statement that occupancy was at 100 per cent during the summer. The city campground was also full, he said, adding that NKLT successfully promoted Nelson as a safe place to travel for outdoor activities.
Who’s been left out?
Councillor Keith Page wondered if this picture was too rosy and gives a false sense of security.
“We have heard a lot of celebration of what’s gone right,” he said, “but who is on the losing side? Who do we need to help?”
City manager Kevin Cormack said the provincial and federal governments have done a good job of targeting the most vulnerable populations.
Arcand said he has been watching out for groups that have been hard hit.
“But it was not apparent,” he said. “We know that arts and culture was hit, but what is important is that these assets don’t shut down in the long term and people were able to adapt.”
He gave the example of the modified operation of the Civic Theatre.
For the arts, subsidies are everything
Nelson and District Arts Council executive director Sydney Black, asked about this after the meeting, said arts organizations that own venues or have employees have been able to take advantage of government COVID-19 subsidies.
“So there is a band-aid and we have stopped the bleeding for now,” Black said, “but if the subsidies change, that will change our whole landscape.”
As for organizations that don’t have venues or regular employees, such as Black’s theatre company, she said her business can’t make money without 300 people in a live audience.
“My business is dead, and there is no means of it coming back to life in the foreseeable future.”