When Forever 21 and H&M opened, roughly nine and 10 months ago, respectively, many were worried how Victoria’s diverse and unique downtown boutique scene would fare against these big box stores. Downtown boutiques draw a lot of tourists to Victoria and see their best business in the summer months, but in the off-season, downtown’s boutiques rely on the business of Victoria’s student population, as well as downtown-centred young professionals.
So how have local businesses dealt with Uptown’s arrival? Dani Dubois from Paradise Boutique, a store that has graced Johnson Street for nine years now, says they are doing their best to remain competitive with the big box stores in Uptown. Although the store’s marketing budget is not on the scale of the Uptown giants, its prices are comparable and the service is more personal. She feels that “Victoria has a heart and soul of independent businesses,” and that everyone “knows someone who owns or works for a small business.” Dubois feels too many people assume that a boutique means the stock is very expensive; she insists that is not always the case.
Bliss, another Johnson-Street boutique that’s been around for a decade, has been in the hands of Steph Shannon and her brother Jeff, for the last three years. When asked the effect Uptown’s opening has had on their business, Steph said that, although weekdays have seen the same steady stream of customers, weekends have seen a slight decline. In the spirit of adaptation, Bliss will open a stand-alone store in Uptown, where they’ll feature their local and global lines of jewelry and accessories.
Nest & Cradle, located on Yates Street, has been in business for two years. When Quinn Anglin, from Nest & Cradle, was asked if Uptown affected her business, she didn’t seem to think it had. Her clientele was more in the range of ages 30 to 50, and she found that Uptown’s H&M and Forever 21 attracted a younger crowd. However, being a big supporter of local businesses, she felt that with the big box stores pulling business away from downtown, it “affects things on a bigger scale than people realize.” This is partly due to the fact that, “empty storefronts are bad for tourism.”
Shannon says downtown is a “great shopping district with heritage buildings,” which makes it a “great place to walk around,” offering a uniqueness that can’t be beat by larger box stores that offer the same clothes in every city. Is there a crowd of money-conscious students heading to Uptown? Yes, but there is also a group of people that are standing out now more than ever: downtown loyalists. The people who are saying no to the sameness offered by big box stores and yes to local stores; the people who want to be unique and desire a variety; the people who have niche interest only supplied by certain niche stores.
With the stand-alone Bliss store opening soon, Shannon says ideally she wants all of Victoria to thrive, and she thinks that downtown will more or less remain the same, with the exception of some more subtle adaption. Boutiques will continue to be a staple of Victoria, except now we can expect to see more stores filling niches not covered in the box stores. It is the hope of many that Shannon is right in her prediction. To reiterate what Dubois said, “Victoria has a heart and soul of independent businesses,” and it would certainly be a shame to see it disappear.