Fernie’s business community has seen a surprising boom since the pandemic began, with more businesses having opened their doors than closed despite the challenges of the pandemic.
According to Brad Parsell, executive director of the Fernie Chamber of Commerce, a total of nine businesses in Fernie have either launched or switched ownership since the onset of the pandemic, while only four have closed.
“The fact that not only have the vast majority of our businesses survived, but that some are actually thriving and others are expanding or opening new stores, is a real positive success story in an otherwise grim year,” said Parsell.
“I think it goes to demonstrate the resilience of the Fernie business community and the optimism for a stronger local economy post-pandemic.”
Businesses that have opened throughout the pandemic include Le Bon Pain, House of Gato, Wildsight’s Local Store, 2nd Edition Coworking, Drift and Sonder, and Society Jane. Mugshots Cafe and The Green Petal have also received new ownership.
Parsell added that while businesses haven’t necessarily benefited from the pandemic, many have capitalized on its by-products, filling gaps in the current market.
“The issue of food security and locally-sourced food has really been brought to the forefront of conversation during the pandemic – (Wildsight’s Local Store) has really addressed that need,” said Parsell.
“There has also been a lot of existing businesses that have moved locations to better suit their operation. Some of these new spaces opening up have been a result of the pandemic.”
Florence Desrochers, who took over ownership of Mugshots Cafe in September, came into the business scene knowing what to expect.
“I knew that it was the pandemic, I find it kind of lucky because we got in with the chance of knowing what type of environment we were starting a business in,” said Desrochers, adding that she anticipated having a quieter year than usual.
“Things are going how personally I was planning them to go, so I’m happy.”
According to Desrochers, while a lack of tourism has affected cafe traffic, her regular customers have kept the business afloat.
“I feel pretty lucky because we have such a big group of regulars that come almost every day…those are really the people that support us right now and make the business run,” said Desrochers, adding that she is thankful the pandemic pushed her to get creative with her business strategies.
“We’ve been just trying new ways (to do things) and it’s kind of a blessing in a way – when something hard happens, it pushes you to reinvent yourself, and I think we’re going to get out of it stronger.”
Co-owner of Drift and Sonder, Joanna Haines, said that while things are uncertain, her trust in the community’s need for a refillery and lifestyle shop has allowed her to feel confident in opening a business amid the pandemic.
“There is an element of uncertainty because we really aren’t sure what’s going to come our way…but we had an idea that we are super connected to and proud of, and we didn’t really want (the pandemic) to hold us back, because when is ever the perfect time to move forward,” said Haines, who opened up Fernie’s newest business on Jan. 22.
“We just wanted to continue working on it and doing it despite COVID, and hopefully come out of the other side of it.”
According to Parsell, many pre-existing businesses have weathered the pandemic storm by altering their business models.
Businesses that have shifted their operations include Essential Yoga, who pivoted to open a cafe, and Nevados, who operated as Luchadora throughout the summer.
“More businesses than I can name in Fernie have been very successful in pivoting their operations,” said Parsell, adding that food and beverage businesses have also circumvented restrictions on dine-in eating by offering take out and delivery.
“Curbside pick-up, free home delivery, click and collect, and a generally more robust online presence have been seen across our spectrum of businesses. This will serve these businesses well not just in the pandemic, but well into the future.”
Parsell added that other businesses to take advantage of the pandemic include home construction and renovations – which have continued at a near-record pace as people spending more time at home seek improvements – as well as certain sectors of the retail industry.
Despite the ongoing challenges associated with the pandemic, Parsell remains optimistic about the future of Fernie’s resilient business community.
“When we emerge out of the pandemic and restrictions ease, I would expect the Fernie Business community will come back stronger than ever and our economic recovery will really take off,” said Parsell.
“Destinations like Fernie, B.C. will be more popular than ever as people look for authentic experiences in small towns set against the great outdoors.”
Parsell added that the best thing residents can do to support businesses is to shop local as often as possible.
“The Fernie Chamber has been really pleased to see our local community take the ‘shop local’ message to heart – and it shows,” added Parsell.
“Every dollar that stays in our community helps. I would also caution residents to not believe everything they read on Facebook. Our local businesses are working hard with their COVID safety plans to keep our community safe.”