P.G. store owners anticipate better times ahead

Planning a wedding can be a tough business that comes with unexpected surprises.

Red wine gets spilled on the bride’s white dress. The macaroni salad makes the guests sick. That three-tiered cake hits the floor when the table collapses just as the bride and groom cut into the first piece.

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In 22 years as owner/operator of Storybook Wedding bridal shop in downtown Prince George, Mary Simoes has seen and heard about a few matrimonial disasters.

None of them compare with the curve ball COVID-19 has thrown her way.

She’s been forced to close her business in downtown Prince George and has laid off her four full-time employees.

“We closed right in the beginning (two weeks ago) just because everything seemed to be closing around us and there was nothing going on downtown , we’re just waiting for things to turn around,” said Simoes.

If this was a typical year, Simoes would be heading into her May-September busy season, about to hire her wedding décor staff for the summer. But the coronavirus threat has put everything on hold.

People face travel restrictions, gatherings of more than 50 are banned and maintaining social distancing would take much of the fun out of a wedding celebration.

“We’ve had quite a few cancelations, as least five, and hopefully they’ll postpone to a later date,” said Simoes. “Especially when they don’t know what’s going on, It’s frustrating.”

The wedding business involves florists, caterers, gown/suit retailers, marriage commissioners, cake makers, and owners of hall rental space, all of whom are feeling the pinch of the COVID-19 crisis.

“The main thing we do in here is wedding dresses, and we do bridesmaids and all that, and that’s been hard,” Simoes said. “We we have a lot of dresses still sitting here.”

High school prom and graduation ceremonies might not happen as per usual this spring and that is another concern for Simoes, who says prom dress sales represent between 30 and 40 per cent of her annual business.

“We’re hoping they’re going to delay it and still do it,” she said. “There’s still a lot of girls anticipating doing this still.”

The Trudeau government last week announced a 75 per cent wage subsidy for business owners affected by COVID-19 closures and Simoes is uncertain whether she will see any of the money.

“I just heard about that and it sounds almost too good to be true with the amount of people and the people who are going to go on (Employment Insurance), but it would be great to help,” she said. “I will look into it. Hopefully it turns around soon. It could be a lot worse and I’m very happy people are taking (COVID-19) seriously.”

Simoes comes to the store once a day to check for messages on the answering machine. Her husband Alberto operates RTC Rail Solutions, a rail track inspection service which has also handed out layoffs. They are using the time off to focus on painting their house.

While the return to winter weather this week has kept bicycle riders off the streets, business has been quite steady at Koop’s Bike Shop in the Nicholson Centre.

 “At the beginning of (last) week we did as much business in one day as we did in all of February,” said Gys Koops, who opened the store in 1973.

“We sold a few fat (tire) bikes. Guys were out of work and wanted to go biking on the snow. The weather isn’t the greatest for our end of the world. If it changed I’m sure we would be wall-to-wall (with customers).”

With Easter coming up at the end of next week and warmer weather on the way, that should help boost sales.

“Traditionally, Easter weekend is our busiest, usually with (selling) kids bikes,” Koops said.

The store is doing its part to live up to public health orders and has been vigilant about wiping down surfaces with alcohol rubs and avoiding close contact with customers.

“We just keep telling our customers, no hugging and kissing when they come in,” he laughed. “Just say ‘hi’ and that’s as close as we’re going to get.”

All five employees in the bike shop are family members, and most are on salary. Koops said no layoffs are anticipated, so he won’t  be applying for any government subsidies.

“I don’t think so, because as with any government incentive I’m pretty sure they’ll want it back,” he said. “They make lots of promises. At election time Trudeau said he was going to increase old age pensions $100 a month if you’re over 75. I’m 75 and I haven’t seen that increase yet.”









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