Christmas leaving nice gifts under the tree for Cowichan businesses

Ben and Dawson Ollson admire the Christmas window display at Embellish! home decor store during the Christmas Kickoff, one of the attractions drawing holiday shoppers into downtown. - Andrew Leong/file
Ben and Dawson Ollson admire the Christmas window display at Embellish! home decor store during the Christmas Kickoff, one of the attractions drawing holiday shoppers into downtown.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

Volume One Bookstore's owner Gary MacGregor said it's business as usual downtown this Christmas.

"We are busy and Christmas is shaping up the way it usually does. It is more frenetic for us this time of year. Like other years, books are important to most people."

MacGregor said since 2008 people have been a little more careful with their Christmas spending. But he credits a good selection of books at Volume One that keep his customers happy and coming through the door.

That, and a good shopping experience in downtown Duncan.

"What draws people downtown is the good collection of stores. I really like the downtown. It's a pleasant place to be and I like the size and scope — a lot of people do. When Eaton's closed things could have gone quite differently down here. Four or five significant stores decided to stay and it built from that."

MacGregor, who is on the Downtown Business Improvement Association board, said people are getting their Christmas wish lists from friends and family and are showing up at the store with their requests. The Young Adult section is the most active in the store.

Lisa Hykaway, co-owner of the Garment District and President of Duncan's Downtown Business Improvement Association, said business was slow in November but since the beginning of December it has improved.

"I'm very pleased with what's going on downtown. The Christmas Kick Off was well attended. Duncan does a great job of promoting downtown and helping our merchants."

Hykaway said Duncan is a quaint little town that attracts shoppers from Victoria to Nanaimo.

"It's a great atmosphere downtown and all of our merchants make people feel welcome."

Patty Abbott, owner of Hilary's Cheese, had a similar business report from Cowichan Bay.

"We've had a really good shopping season so far. If it's not busier, it's the same. It's a funky seaside village and if you are looking for unique local gifts and that's what they are going to find down here."

Abbott, who is President of the newly formed Cowichan Bay Merchants' Association, credits events at the Oceanfront Suites for attracting shoppers to Cowichan Bay.

"The hotel has been fantastic. They had a craft fair last weekend, the Sea Lion celebration a few weeks ago, and this Saturday they are hosting a Breakfast with Santa."

Abbott said in the past few months there has been a change in how business owners in Cowichan Bay are working together.

"Our goal is to promote Cowichan Bay, not just our own businesses. We've been out, cleaning up and power washing the streets, and keeping open communications about how to keep our village prosperous for everybody. We are more of a community."

Evidence of this change can be found in the twice-held Ladies' Shopping Night in the bay. Women were invited to shop until 9 p.m. on two different nights in the month before Christmas. Abbott said the event was a success and showcased new and old businesses that are tucked away in the nooks and crannies of Cowichan Bay's older buildings.

"All I heard all night long was "Oh look at this! I didn't know that was here." There were over 100 women walking around that night. The girls who were instrumental in organizing it, Lara from Spinning Ninny and Catherine from Zoe's Coffee Shop, did an excellent job."

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