Downtown Kelowna businesses seeing sales uptick in weeks leading to Christmas

Business on Bernard Avenue has been pretty brisk this week, say downtown merchants who focus their attention on all that is locally made

Business on Bernard Avenue has been pretty brisk this week, say downtown merchants who focus their attention on providing locally made goods to the community.

It could be mild weather, a new interest in spending dollars closer to home, or as one shop owner suggested, a sense of post election optimism fuelling Christmas spending. Nobody really knows for certain. It’s just a nice turnabout from years past.

Shereen Abbas, the distillery manager at Okanagan Spirits’s Kelowna location, said that the buying season got underway at their shop before Thanksgiving.

“Usually there is a bit of a lull around November, but that didn’t happen this year,” she said. “We’ve been busy since American Thanksgiving.”

Echoing sentiments expressed at the Tourism Kelowna AGM held earlier in the month, Abbas said that it was Americans heading north to enjoy some decent weather and the deals that come along with a low Canadian dollar that really got things going.

The loonie, which has dropped 17 per cent against the U.S. dollar since January, may be fuelling some of the spending. The fact shoppers are able to go to the distillery and buy something authentically Okanagan was an added incentive to spend.

Down the road a bit, at artisan-goods shop Funktional, Chantal Couture said she’s had a similar business boom, although she saw the inspiration for local spending coming from this side of the border.

“It’s been brilliant and fun (this season),” she said, noting it’s been different than the last six years she’s been at the Bernard location.

“People are happy and it seems like there’s a new sense of national optimism (post-election.)”

Also selling goods from local artisans and artists alongside unique international finds, are Sheila Estephan and Jeff McGregor from Alchemy.

The store opened its doors earlier this year, making it the first Christmas they’ve been operational.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Estephan. “It got off to a slow start, but it’s been going gangbusters.”

Estephan said part of the appeal to the community is the local, original art mixed in with goods from all over the world. If there was any bad news in retail for Bernard Avenue, it was from merchants who said that one half of Bernard Avenue was far more profitable than the other.

Once you pass Ethel, there’s a bit of a drop-off, said Rachelle O’Halloran of Uniquity Creations.

The vacant Bargain Bin creates a dead space, she said, and that’s a hard reality to surmount.

Rents are cheaper on that side of the road, but it would just be better to see something to replace the old discount retailer so businesses could flourish.

Next door, at Unless Market, a shop that takes its cues from the Suess tale The Lorax, sales are doing OK, considering the store just opened in September.

“Our concept is that we have 90 per cent locally made goods and the remaining 10 per cent is eco-friendly,” said Sarah Coffey, of Unless Market.

“It’s really resonating well with people. People like to know there’s a place they can get local products regularly.”

What’s happening on Bernard is mirroring what’s happening across B.C.

The Retail Council of Canada  says B.C. is leading the country in retail spending, which is up seven per cent compared to this time last year while most businesses are reporting higher earnings for the first two weeks of December.

Last minute shopping ideas

Looking for a unique, thoughtful looking and last minute gift? A few downtown business owners who have an eye on local products have just what you may need.

Chantal Couture, Funktional: “Blanket scarves. They’re at an excellent price point. And if you want something locally made, we have some handmade pottery.

Shereen Abbas, Okanagan Spirits: “We have the liqueur snack packs, which go great with a little bubbly. Or there are locally made spirits in larger sizes. We also have the drunken fruit.

Sheila Estephan, Alchemy: “There are so many unique things to choose from here. Votive candle holders and Christmas decorations make great stocking stuffers. And then there are the Edison bulbs—people love what you can do with them.”

Rachelle O’Halloran of Uniquity Creations: “Vintage hand stamped silver that’s locally made would make a great stocking stuffer. And then we have lots of hand-made signs that are very popular, also. Soaps, candles and wine racks are good Christmas gifts, too.”

Sarah Coffey, of Unless Market: “We have fun accessories, beard products, napkins and tea towels that would make great presents. This year colouring books are popular and we have a locally made one from Chris Waneck.”



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