Small downtown shops, restaurants struggling after wildfires shortened summer tourist season

Small shops struggling

Cindy White

“Buy local or bye bye local.” It’s not just a fun play on words. It’s an all too stark reality for many small businesses in Kelowna.

They’re really struggling after wildfires brought an abrupt end to a summer tourist season that was already slower than anticipated.

“We were in Kelowna about two weeks before the fires and we were hearing that business was off maybe 20 per cent from where it was last year,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservices Association. “Then we saw the fires and then there was no tourism.”

He calls it “disastrous” saying some restaurants reported no sales on some days. “You don’t usually hear that. Usually you have something.

“But a couple restaurants said, you know what? I was open today and I had no sales whatsoever.”

The Downtown Kelowna Association is trying to bolster struggling businesses by hosting Small Shop Weekend Friday through Sunday and their posters include the “buy local or bye bye local” slogan.

“You talk to some of the businesses who are trying to gauge where their sales are this year and they’re still comparing back to 2019 because the last three summers have just been disruptive,” explains downtown association executive director Mark Burley.

He’s urging the people of Kelowna to show their support not just this weekend for what he says is the backbone of any city – small business.

Bernard Avenue will also be closed to vehicle traffic Saturday for the rescheduled DKA Show N Shine that had to be postponed because of the wildfire emergency last month. The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and all the details can be found here.

Road closures and parking restrictions along sections of Bernard Avenue, Abbott Street, Mill Street, and Pandosy Street go into effect on Friday, September 22 to accommodate Show N Shine. Overnight parking is not permitted in the 200, 300, 400 and 500 Blocks of Bernard; in the 1500 Block of Abbott Street; on Mill Street (alongside Kelly O’Bryan’s); or along the 1400 and 1500 Blocks of Pandosy. All vehicles must be removed from those areas by 5:30am on Saturday.

However, on other downtown streets that are not part of the closure, the first two hours of on-street parking will be free this Saturday (time limits and other restrictions apply). On-street parking is free on Sundays and parking is also free in all three city-owned Downtown Kelowna parkades (Chapman, Memorial, Library) every weekend.

You can see the full list of businesses participating on Small Shop Weekend here.

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