Now that British Columbia is in the second phase of its reopening plan, how are Indigenous-owned businesses doing?
We are checking in with businesses in the Okanagan to find out: How have they adapted during COVID-19? What challenges have they faced? What’s been working? What’s next?
Syilx Trail Gift Store and Gallery
When Cori Derickson first opened the Syilx Trail Gift Store and Gallery on Feb. 1, 2020, having to close down due to a global pandemic was not on her mind. She was focused on her goals for the business.
“We’re supporting Indigenous art and trying to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous [people] in promoting who we are through our art work,” says Derickson who is Sqilxw.
It was “really a shocker” she says, when only a few weeks in she needed to close her doors.
As a result of COVID-19, she’s laid off staff, built an online store and applied for grants to keep the business going. Now, she’s opened her doors and is slowly letting people back into the space.
“People have been trickling in,” she says. “They’ve been cooped up for six to eight weeks with social distancing and haven’t shopped anywhere.”
Tourism likely to slow
The store and gallery, which is owned by Westbank First Nations’ Ntityix Development Corporation, came about after the Sncewips Heritage Museum relocated and expanded to also include a storefront.
“[When] visitors would visit the museum, the idea was for them to come into the gift store and be able to take home something to remember their visit, she says. “A lot of people love that.”
According to a 2018 report by Tourism Kelowna, the Central Okanagan region attracts over 1.9 million visitors each year and has a total $1.25 billion in economic output. But the Okanagan’s tourism industry will undoubtedly be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since Syilx Trail Gift Store and Gallery is new, Derickson says they haven’t qualified for the business support the government is providing. (Businesses need to show a 30 per cent drop in revenue compared to last year.)
“We’re brand new so we don’t have anything to show for 2019,” she says. “We’ve really fallen through the cracks in that respect.”
Initially, it was “a little hectic,” says Derickson. “I was trying to manage the store, take inventory, pay the bills, figure out how to respond…it’s all brand new for everyone.”
But when it came to making the decision to close the business, “morally and ethically it was best to close the doors and to, you know, wait it out, stay at home,” says Derickson.
This time at home inspired her to get to work on launching their online store. “We just launched it [May 8] and we’re very proud,” she says.
The store and gallery was also able to get some support through Indigenous Tourism BC in the form of a grant, Derickson says.
Open for business
Now that the store is open they have put new measures in place to keep people safe.
“We’re not a big store, so we’ll probably have two to three people allowed in the store at one time and that’ll be it,” says Derickson. There’s also sanitizer available for all shoppers.
Despite all of the challenges brought on by COVID-19, Derickson says she is pushing forward.
“I really take my position seriously of running this new business for our community,” she says. “I really want it to be successful.”
Her vision is to continue to support Indigenous artists in the community and across Canada.
“We definitely want to support the artists and the entrepreneurs,” she says, adding that they are looking for more artists to reach out and that they hope to collaborate with businesses as well.
“We’re looking to collaborate with other businesses, offices or any other enterprises to put things on their wall, on consignment and display,” she says.
For Derickson, this work is all about creating a “movement of Indigenous artists” telling their stories.
“We’re helping our artists succeed,” she says. “It’s a communal kind of success story.”