As Kimberley navigates phase three of the BC Restart Plan, Brian Sondergaard, president of the Chamber of Commerce, reports “things are slowly returning to normal,” and that while there’s lots of positives to celebrate, people need to remain diligent to ensure it keeps trending in that direction.
“I think we’re pretty lucky out here,” Sondergaard said. “Places like Kimberley that just have less population density are definitely having an easier time with it. That being said, certainly from a business standpoint, the one thing we just really can’t let happen is a move back to phase two. And that may not be totally within our control. I just want to remind people to keep listening to Bonnie Henry.”
The Chamber, he said, takes all their direction from the Provincial Health Authority and added they’re not able to advocate timelines in the way the City does, but the Chamber stays in line with the City of Kimberley.
“We’ve done a great job and lets just make sure this fall we’re moving forward not stepping back.”
In terms of the reopening process, Sondergaard said that while the Chamber has heard some concerns from the business community, the response has been mostly positive. The people of Kimberley are doing a good job supporting local businsess and he hasn’t heard any concerns about inter-provincial travel, though he’s aware it’s happening.
Some of the concerns he has heard are to do with the U.S. border.
“I think that’s what most people, businesses and people in general, seem to be most concerned about is until the U.S. has it a little bit better under control, we just limit that traffic,” he explained. “I mean, they’ll always be welcome of course, but we have to look out for the safety of our community.”
Sondergaard said that he’s been seeing and hearing a lot of positive numbers. For example, tourism and accomodations are at essentially the same level as they were last year.
“You don’t have Calgary Stampede so you have people coming here,” he said. “So that’s good, if the tourism’s back that drives the local economy, so I think that’s a positive sign.”
Building permits are also on track with last year, which was a record year for Kimberley.
“There’s always going to be the extremes, not everybody has a positive story but it seems like we’re faring better than certainly the big cities.”
Though he said he doesn’t have the exact numbers yet, Sondergaard is aware that “at least a couple” of businesses have shut down over the past few months since the outbreak began. Some closed due to circumstances other than COVID, but he said a couple have had to shut down predominantly because of it.
“For the most part, the economy is doing quite well,” he said. “When we had the fires that was actually a lot harder because tourists just completely stayed away, whereas, like I said, the reports coming out of Tourism Kimberley is that it’s certainly right back where it should be, maybe even a little higher, it’s hard to say but certainly it’s doing well.”
One thing he thought was interesting, he added, is that once the pandemic finally is behind us, he believes there may be a surge of people who want to leave bigger urban centres to seek places to live in smaller communities like Kimberley.
“When this is all over, whenever that is, a lot of people in the bigger centres are really reevaluating their life in the city,” he said. “And when working from home there’s going to be a lot less necessity to be in the bigger centres, so it could end up being a real positive for smaller centres like Kimberley. We don’t want to grow too fast, but I think people are going to be eyeing up these destinations to live.
“I’ve got lots of friends in bigger centres and it just kind of blows my mind how different their experience is from ours so we’re definitely very fortunate, and we just hope that B.C. in general has done a great job, Kimberley’s done an amazing job so let’s just keep doing it so we can get this over it. Keep listening to Bonnie Henry.”
Sondergaard stressed the importance of staying the course and maintaining an air of caution while things are gradually opening back up and restrictions are being eased.
“I really want people to continue physical distancing, sanitizing and wearing masks where necessary,” he said.
“We don’t want mandatory masks but there are situations where that is necessary. So it’s good news but let’s all do this together and not put others at risk, because it’s just not the time for that kind of foolishness, it just doesn’t make any sense.”
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