These days, we hear a lot of talks on the effects of the pandemic on local businesses located in larger cities. When we talk about smaller regions, it’s usually to highlight how great local tourism is going since Quebecers are vacationing in their own province.
The picture we paint seems rather positive. A better local economy is awesome! But what are the real impacts of the pandemic on small regional businesses that find themselves facing a completely new, unknown situation?
I had the opportunity to visit Petite-Rivière-Saint-François recently, a small municipality that offers mind-blowing views of the St-Lawrence river in Charlevoix, near the Massif. This municipality is ridiculously easy to navigate with its one and only street: Main street. Numerous cabins frame the road, most of them available for tourist rental.
During that visit, even though there weren’t many businesses around, I had the chance to see the direct impacts on the pandemic on the local businesses that have been around for a while.
The first establishment I visited was a little snack bar near the water. A hand-washing station had been set up near the entrance, and a one-way path led to the snack bar. Health and safety measures had clearly been put in place. However, when I got near the counter, I noticed the business seemed closed. It was barely 6 o’clock. Had they closed earlier than usual?
Well no. A poster on the window let customers know that the snack bar had shut down permanently. Why? A lack of available staff. In such a small municipality, the workforce is limited, and certainly not equipped to face such a high number of visitors. When local tourism skyrocketed in the past few weeks, they had to put an end to their services, because they weren’t able to keep up with demand.
A little further up the road, a bed and breakfast displays an overflowing terrace. Le Four À Pain is at full capacity, and only two employees are there to work. The waitress tries her best to help me, her arms full with plates and her face tired behind her mask. She’s running around at a dizzying speed, like a tornado who would’ve needed one or two clones to help her get through the day.
I ended up ordering something to go, and was told there would be a twenty-minute wait. It’s the perfect occasion to walk around the dock - waiting is not a problem. But it’s clear that even then, there’s a lack of staff members to help with the heightened demand. It’s not just a restaurant - it’s also a place to stay overnight, which means they have clients coming in for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It’s obvious that even though local tourism has many upsides, especially for our economy, our smaller municipalities are unfortunately not equipped to welcome such a high number of visitors.
Petite-Rivière-François is getting ready to welcome a Club Med sometime in 2021. The lack of available staff isn’t an issue that will resolve itself overnight, and it needs to be addressed in order to make it work. Let’s see which solution can be brought forward to fix this situation.