B.C’s businesses recover after wildfires

A Williams Lake business owner says it’s been a hard summer

Wildfires raging through the Cariboo have businesses worried about their profits.

More than 250 local companies have called the B.C. Economic Development Association’s business recovery hotline, according to CEO Dale Wheeldon.

Many of those are from cities hit hardest by this year’s wildfire season, including Williams Lake and 100 Mile House.


Fire ravaged trees near Williams Lake. Katya Slepian/Black Press.

“The majority of the callers are retailers, tourism and hospitality, forestry, food services – those kinds of sectors,” Wheeldon said.

The hotline was set up in July to help with everything from getting employment insurance, to connecting

Williams Lake, which is surrounded by several fires included the Riske Creek fire, the Wildwood fire and the Spokin Lake fire, spent two weeks under an evacuation order. Tom Wong, who owns Caribou Ski Source for Sports, said his business took a big hit when the store had to close.

“We were shut down for three weeks,” Wong said, who has owned the store since 1988. “It will be the biggest impact on anything that we’ve ever had.”

READ: Anticipated rain a ‘wildcard’ for B.C.’s wildfires

He’s lucky – the business has interruption insurance, which means their profits will be covered.

“The employees are still going to be out some,” said Wong. “Employment insurance doesn’t cover 100 per cent of what they would have made in that time.”

And the store itself will still suffer losses, he noted, because Wong can’t cancel shipments he made for fall merchandise in advance.

“We buy everything six months in advance,” said Wong. “All the stuff that normally sells in the month of July, like shorts, water sports – that stuff’s all definitely going to be backed up.”

But Wong said he’s somewhat lucky. Had the evacuation order come down in August, it would have squashed his back-to-school sales.

“From that perspective… that’s a positive,” said Wong. “But I don’t think we can make up [lost profits]. I think we’ll just be down for the year.”

He’s trying to look at any silver linings and hopes that businesses who’ve done well as a result of the fire – from appliance repair shops to fire apparatus retailers to hotels – will help out those who’ve suffered by spending any extra cash.

“Everyone’s lost a paycheque. How is that going to impact your spending for all the stuff that you need?” Wong said. “For me that would be back to school, hockey season…”

He’s trying to make the little things a bit more affordable for people who are out cash because of the evacuations.

“Right now, when the evacuation alert is on everything is an extra 20 per cent off,” said Wong. “That’s just to try and get people to have some normalcy, so their kids can still play soccer, hockey, albeit their budget may not be as big.”

Meanwhile, the business recovery hotline will be open until the impacts of the wildfire season see relief.

Any businesses affected by the wildfires can call the hotline at 1-877-422-3377.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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