• Downtown Duncan

Restarting Fresh

Forced to close for a time in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the owners of shops in downtown Duncan like Chari-Teas and Fabrications are making the most of a hard situation. Confronted with a lockdown, both businesses’ owners took a chance on renovating their storefronts and interiors. Now offering great deals in clearance and summer sales, these shops are more welcoming than ever – and their owners are grateful for the support of the community.

Surviving has not been easy, and the shock of the shut down is still fresh in mind. “When COVID hit, downtown was a ghost town,” Jane Spencer, the owner of Fabrications, recalls. “For six weeks, we had no money coming in.”

At the time, Jane had been planning a façade improvement project for May. Rather than cancel the scheduled paint job, Jane followed her intuition and decided to do it earlier on.

“My gut told me to do [the project] during shut down. When things aren’t good, people want to see the good and the light – they want to know we are still here,” Jane explains.

The decision to re-paint her storefront in heritage colours as originally planned shocked her partner, but it is paying off.

“When my customers go by, they see new paint, and they think, “Fabrications is not going anywhere. They’re weathering the storm.” And when the staff came back, it helped them too,” Jane observes.

Now she describes business as “steady.” She recognizes that people are making an effort to buy local.

“I have people coming in specifically to keep us afloat – not just us, but to keep the downtown vibrant. They’re making a point to spend their money locally because they aren’t going on a holiday. I also made the decision to keep my painters on because I know they have families and need the jobs,” Jane observes. This kindness has been repaid to her not only by customers but by suppliers who offered “creative payment plans.”

Jane has discovered through this crisis that “when things like COVID come up, you really learn the integrity of your business partners and customers. It’s nice to be nice, and easy to be nice, when things are good. But when things go sideways, you know who will stick by you. You know who was still so kind. We are so grateful to our customers and suppliers.”

Helping to keep beautiful items affordable for loyal customers, Fabrications is now running a summer sale with 20-80 percent off brands like Part Two, White Stuff and Jewels.

Jane is not the only business owner coping with COVID through a renovation. Christina Cooke, the owner of Chari-Teas, entirely revamped the interior of her shop, moving the till to the back corner, painting the walls a soft green, and bringing in new products like Viva brand.

“I always wanted to renovate,” Christina explains. “I was going to wait to save up some money, but when COVID hit, I figured it was the time to just go for it.”

Christina’s husband and father worked with her to make her dream shop a reality, while at the same time, Christina got an online delivery system set up in a matter of weeks. “I had to balance the deliveries with the construction, and it was a crazy time, but we managed,” Christina recalls. She is grateful that “all regulars ordered” online as well.

Having returned to the “new normal,” Christina is especially grateful for the ongoing loyalty of customers coming back for favourites like Cream Earl Grey tea. Offering a clearance sale on mugs from a previous product line, this new business owner is making space for new teas like Nuts About You, a blend which makes for a tasty iced drink on a hot summer day.

Christina is also imagining some next steps she would like to take. “With COVID it is too complicated now to sell hot tea, but maybe in the future, I would like to have a seating area and some tea lattes and baked goods,” she suggests.

Every business owners’ plans and dreams have had to change in response to Covid-19, but with typical determination, people like Christina and Jane are adapting as best as they can to these trying times. From new interiors at places like Chari-Teas, to new facades at Fabrications, business owners have created welcoming spaces that are also carefully set up with masks, hand sanitizer, and more precautions. They are also offering summer and clearance sales throughout downtown Duncan right now, with Outlooks Menswear and Cardino Shoes, among many others, offering great deals on well-made products.

Let’s honour these efforts and continue to keep Cowichan strong by buying local whenever and wherever possible.

- Amanda Vance

Executive Director

Downtown Duncan BIA

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