Sam Baio, owner of Nelson’s Valhalla Pure Outfitters, says he’s keeping his store closed on Boxing Day due to COVID-19 crowd concerns. Photo: Tyler Harper

Sam Baio, owner of Nelson’s Valhalla Pure Outfitters, says he’s keeping his store closed on Boxing Day due to COVID-19 crowd concerns. Photo: Tyler Harper

Wary of the pandemic, Nelson businesses opt to stay closed on Boxing Day

They say the profit isn’t worth the potential of infection

Every year, Sam Baio looks forward to standing outside his store in a gaudy ski suit to welcome in Boxing Day customers.

The annual Boxing Day sale has always been a big draw at Valhalla Pure Outfitters in downtown Nelson, so much so that Baio wondered if his business wasn’t violating fire codes by having too many people inside.

“In the past I wasn’t sure if the fire department ever shut me down,” he said. “I really enjoyed the buzz of that.”

But this year Baio has decided the buzz — and profit — isn’t worth the safety hazard of having a crowd downtown during a pandemic. So on Saturday, for the first time in 25 years, Valhalla Pure will be closed on Boxing Day.

Baio said when he weighed the draw of Boxing Day against the possibility of COVID-19 spreading on Baker Street, the choice was made for him.

“I have this bit of a moral obligation to think that a decision that I can make actually can change the amount of people downtown.”

Laura Price owns Scout, a women’s clothing store in Nelson. She’s also closing her doors for Boxing Day, which she says will be a first in 15 years of owning a retail store.

Price said she considered the decision for two months before telling her staff they would get a break. Inviting in crowds of customers during a pandemic, she said, makes no sense.

“It just seems bizarre to do this, to do Boxing Day, when it’s a day when the store is packed,” she said.

The holiday season is typically an important time for the city’s small businesses ahead of a usual drop in business in January and February, according to Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson.

But Thomson said this year, when the spring lockdown led to both temporary and permanent closures, has put many businesses in the position of relying on the holidays to help recover from financial losses.

“Just like in the summertime a lot of the accommodators and [restaurants] need to build up a bit of a war chest to get them through quieter times and the shoulder seasons, I think the smaller businesses need to do the same type of thing,” said Thomson.

”They need to have a really great November, December to carry them through the quieter months.”

Baio said his business benefited this year by selling equipment for outdoor recreation, which the province encouraged. His online business boomed, and Black Friday in November also took pressure off his need to make sales on Boxing Day.

That has put Baio in a privileged position to close on Dec. 26, but he’s also sensitive to the needs of other owners who don’t have that luxury.

“This is when you put money in the bank and it carries you through slow times. So I understand that,” he said. “But I need to do this because I think I’m making a good point here and we draw so many people to our store on Baker Street.”

Price also had a better year than expected. Her customers spent their money in the province this year, and have already supported her decision to sit out Boxing Day.

“I’m totally excited to not be open,” she said.

Related: Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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