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Few closures as Langley businesses battle COVID-19 downturn

Smaller, Canadian chains among casualties locally
Army and Navy was in business for more than a century but closed earlier this year, citing COVID-19 as the cause. The space at Langley Mall has been taken over by McFrugal’s Discount Outlet. (Lisa Farquharson/Black Press Media)

Langley is in better shape than some other parts of Metro Vancouver when it comes to the survival of businesses, according to local business groups.

Vancouver has been hit much harder by store closures than suburban areas, including Langley, said Colleen Clark, CEO of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.

“Downtown Vancouver is seeing probably the worst retail impact,” said Clark.

The reason is the massive reduction in people heading into offices and downtown for events, Clark said.

Without the commuters and many of the day-trip visitors, many stores in the central shopping district have shuttered.

But because people were told to hunker down and shop local when they did go out, Langley stores have fared better, said Clark.

Teri James, executive director of the Downtown Langley Business Association, agreed.

“To the best of my knowledge, we haven’t had any closures,” she said when asked if COVID was a factor.

There is a constant turnover in local retail – it can be up to 20 per cent a year of businesses closing or moving on in the Langley City downtown area, she noted.

But new businesses move in and people don’t see empty storefronts for long.

“We still have an incredibly low vacancy rate, especially here in the downtown core,” James said.

Clark noted that there were a number of business closings early on in the pandemic during the first spring lockdown.

In some cases, those were shops and restaurants where the owners were considering retiring, and the pandemic made up their minds for them, she said.

Overall, there have been a higher than usual number of businesses closing across the province this year, but fewer than 10 per cent have shut their doors for good.

British Columbia has lost more than 10,000 businesses this year.

In January, Statistics Canada recorded 131,069 active businesses in the province.

In February, that abruptly dropped to 124,136, and by May, the numbers had dropped to 116,004.

A slight rebound began in June, and by July there were 119,364 active businesses in the province.

The number of business closures peaked at 13,152 in April, before that number declined sharply into the summer. During this time, new businesses still opened, although the number of new openings dropped as closures increased.

July was the last month for which numbers were available.

In Langley, so far it isn’t local mom and pop shops that have been most likely to close.

Over the past few months, Swimco, LeChateau, and the 101-year-old Army & Navy have all closed. DavidsTea also closed its physical stores, but that was largely attributed to financial problems pre-dating the pandemic.

All of those stores are Canadian-based mid-sized chains. Some were in relatively healthy shape but were hit hard by the pandemic, while others had been facing financial issues that were exacerbated by the sudden lack of customers.

Some spaces have already filled up again, with McFrugal’s taking over the Army & Navy location.

Restaurants have been under intense pressure, but relatively few have shuttered their doors yet in Langley.

The owners of the Fat Cow & Oyster Bar in Walnut Grove recently announced on social media that they would be closing down for good at the end of November.

Retail stores have had variable issues. Bicycle shops and stores selling equipment for outdoor recreation have proved wildly successful – in some cases, becoming victims of their own success.

Walnut Grove’s Velocity Cycles temporarily shut briefly in the summer, because they were so busy they had all but run out of bicycles, parts, and accessories. Other local shops such as Bicycle Sports Pacific also reported largley empty shelves.

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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