‘It took a pandemic to take us down’: Local B.C. favourites lost due to COVID

Click to play video: 'Casualties of COVID: Beloved B.C. independent businesses forced to close for good' Casualties of COVID: Beloved B.C. independent businesses forced to close for good
The pandemic has forever changed our province's retail landscape with many favourite family-owned and independent businesses forced to close for good. In part two of our series on the casualties of COVID, Kristen Robinson has a look at the local stores lost – Nov 23, 2021

After closing her two beloved Lower Mainland shops last year, Kristina Egyed avoided passing her empty East Vancouver storefront.

“I was terribly heart-stricken,” said the LaLa’s owner.

“LaLa’s was really a part of me.”

Click to play video: 'Long-time Nanaimo business succumbs to pandemic and online shopping' Long-time Nanaimo business succumbs to pandemic and online shopping
Long-time Nanaimo business succumbs to pandemic and online shopping – Oct 29, 2021

Egyed founded LaLa’s in 1996. The concept was a success until COVID-19. Egyed pivoted to online sales – creating cash flow but no revenue – before accepting that the pandemic did not support her gift store’s business strategy.

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“LaLa’s was built on amped-up fun and casual socialization inside of a brick and mortar store,” Egyed told Global News.

“And that model I knew, was going to be disrupted for at least three years if not more.”

Kristina Egyed at her LaLa’s gift store on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. Instagram: lalas_ca

It was a gamble she wasn’t willing to take with her personal wealth.

Egyed moved as much inventory as she could in the summer of 2020 – before closing her Deep Cove and Commercial Drive locations – at a time when she should have been celebrating nearly 25 years in business.

“I could sense that leaving those communities would leave a hole in those communities, and that was difficult for me,” recalled Egyed.

Read more: ‘Very emotional’: Nanaimo, B.C. party shop closes doors, citing impact of COVID-19

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A longtime business owner on central Vancouver Island faced the same dilemma.

“We’re the casualty of this,” Pattie Walker said as she prepared for the last Halloween at her popular Nanaimo store.

The pandemic was the final push for Pattie’s Party Palace.

After almost 23 years of selling costumes year-round, Walker closed on Nov. 20 with one last party.

“We’re totally event-based so it was very decimating to the business to lose all of our events,” she told Global News on Oct. 29.

Websites like Amazon were siphoning sales when COVID-19 drove even more shoppers online and put celebrations on hold.

Click to play video: 'New survey reveals COVID-19 costs for B.C. businesses' New survey reveals COVID-19 costs for B.C. businesses
New survey reveals COVID-19 costs for B.C. businesses – Jan 19, 2021

“As a small independent, you can’t compete,” said Walker.

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At least 84 street-level businesses have closed in downtown Vancouver since early 2020, according to the DVBIA’s May 2021 State of Downtown report.

Forty-five per cent of them were independent stores or restaurants.

“To have to lay everybody off, it’s heartbreaking,” said business owner Brendan Ladner.

“It’s a really, really hard thing to do.”

In October, Ladner was forced to let 17 employees go when he shut down his trio of quick-service restaurants in downtown Vancouver.

“It’s everything we’ve built, and we worked so hard and did so much,” he told Global News.

The exterior of SMAK on West Pender before its opening in May 2013. SMAK Healthy Fast Food

Ladner opened the first SMAK in 2013 – on West Pender Street in the city’s financial district.

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His healthy take on fast food served locally sourced products in compostable packaging and quickly became a fan favourite.

Two more locations followed on Granville and Howe Streets.

“It took a pandemic to take us down. You know, you’re doing growth and then the pandemic comes,” Ladner added.

He was optimistic things would turn around until this past September’s sales were slower than in 2020.

Read more: B.C. business community wary of gaps in new COVID-19 financial support

“People aren’t coming back to work in offices and they might not for a very long time,” said Ladner, who moved to Whistler to avoid seeing his SMAK dream collapse.

“When you take all the customers away, you’re kind of left with a business model that doesn’t really work anymore.”

With more losses expected, Egyed said supporting local and independent B.C. businesses is now more important than ever.

“This is going to be a pivotal season for those that have been struggling over the last 18 months,” she told Global News.

“Please show them some love.”


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