2010 Flashback: Small businesses see limited sales, hope for better days

Online retailer gets windfall from Games merchandise

With the 10th anniversary of Vancouver hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics upon us, we are looking back at some of the stories that were making the news in the Courier during those 17 days in February.

This story was originally published Feb. 24, 2010

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For small businesses in Vancouver, the Games have not produced gold for all.

Cara Birkeland, who runs Birkeland Bros. Wool shop on Main Street at East 19th Avenue, has not seen the influx of foreign customers she expected.

“Two days before the Olympics started I had some IOC [International Organizing Committee] members in, which was great. And since then, business has been down about 50 per cent,” she said.

Birkeland blames parking restrictions on neighbouring side streets throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games for the lack of customers. She says Main Street is a shopping destination for many drivers.

“The city’s done a really good job in terrifying people about getting around town,” Birkeland said.

Regular customers and participants in her classes and knitting groups have called to check if Birkeland’s is open.

“I’m not knocking the Olympics because I think it’s done a lot of good for the city,” she said. “But for these two weeks, for small businesses, it’s tough, it’s really, really tough.”

But at least one self-storage location has benefited from the Games. Todd Boutilier of Storage on Terminal and Yaletown Mini Storage, said business spiked in January at the Terminal site.

“We are renting right now to businesses who are here from California and TV companies that have TV cameras ready to go here in our storage, so the Olympics definitely helped us, for sure,” Boutilier said.

A growing online Vancouver business has also profited from the Games. Elastic Path, a company that sells e-commerce software and services, won VANOC’s contract to run the online store for Olympic merchandise so customers don’t have to stand in line for two hours to get their Quatchi fix.

Matt Dion, vice president of marketing for the company, said Elastic Path initially turned down the opportunity to bid on the contract because the company sells its software and services to clients who run their own e-commerce operations. But after a second nudge Elastic Path submitted the winning bid. Elastic Path earns a portion of every sale. In the three to four months leading up to the Games, sales were “probably double” the company’s initial forecasts, Dion said. “The red mittens, who could have predicted that?” he added. “That’s like the Cabbage Patch [doll] phenomenon.”

The contract has not only meant a boost in revenue, but Elastic Path has also benefited by putting its own software to use. Three Elastic Path employees participated in the torch relay, boosting the company’s Olympic spirit and morale.

Maintaining the Olympic spirit while facing a poor return at the till is important, said Sharman King, an owner of Book Warehouse. Business at the book chain’s six Vancouver and one North Shore location has slowed.

Regular customers’ eyes are glued to the Games and tourists aren’t big book buyers, King said.

“We knew from Salt Lake City that it was not great for retail business. If you’re selling beer, it’s probably very, very good.” King said retailers won’t regain those two weeks of lost sales, but he suggested business owners put their worries aside and enjoy the once in a lifetime experience of the Games. “Those of us who are not positively affected right now just have to suck it up and enjoy the future that we hope it will bring.”

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