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B.C.’s small businesses fear cold Christmas amid surging COVID-19 cases

Click to play video 'B.C. small businesses urging consumers to shop local this Christmas' B.C. small businesses urging consumers to shop local this Christmas
WATCH: B.C. small businesses urging consumers to shop local this Christmas. – Nov 20, 2020

Friday was day one of B.C.’s new province-wide mask mandate in indoor public spaces, and businesses are hoping it can cool COVID-19 numbers enough to get shoppers back through the door.

In Kitsilano, at Bruno’s Corner Cafe, owner Bruno Papa said it was mostly smooth sailing under the new order.

Read more: Coronavirus: How will British Columbia’s new mask requirement be enforced?

“We had a lot of people who would wear masks prior to the mandate, but first thing this morning we obviously had a couple that weren’t happy with it and threatened never to come back,” he said

“But they’ll be back. There’s no where you can go without a mask.”

That universal application was one of the driving forces behind the business community’s push to have the mandate implemented, and on Thursday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry acknowledged it was a key reason she reversed course and gave the order.

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Papa, like many small business owners in the province, is struggling just to pay the bills — with limited indoor seating, bans on social gatherings, and consumers jittery about rising case numbers.

Click to play video 'Reaction to B.C.’s sweeping new COVID-19 restrictions' Reaction to B.C.’s sweeping new COVID-19 restrictions
Reaction to B.C.’s sweeping new COVID-19 restrictions – Nov 20, 2020

The coming holiday season, usually a money-maker, is currently a big question mark.

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“Hopefully a few months down the road this will be a memory,” he said.

Greg Wilson, director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada described the situation as a “crisis of consumer confidence.”

Read more: B.C. reports 639 new COVID-19 cases, 10 deaths and rising hospitalizations

The mask order, he said, was one crucial tool the province could use to try and keep businesses afloat.

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“Lowering the amount of virus in the community because people are wearing masks will help us remain open and help us have strong Christmas sales,” he said.

“The local, small, independent businesses are the ones more likely to be struggling right now.”

Those businesses were already facing stiff competition from ecommerce giants like Amazon before the pandemic.

Now they face a holiday season where shoppers are more likely than ever to go online to hunt for gifts.

“Unfortunately, the longer the restrictions, and the greater the fear on the part of consumers, the more difficult it is for more businesses, ” Wilson said.

“My fear is particularly in sectors such as apparel and accessories, you’re probably going to see more business failures.”

For those looking to support local, Wilson said most businesses now list product on their website, or will at least be able to help by phone.

Many now deliver, and those that don’t will likely offer a curbside pickup option, he added.