A Kelowna business CEO and founder is looking for more support from the Orchard Park Mall, while at the same time trying to overcome challenges brought about by the ongoing pandemic.
In September, Julie Michaud received the BDC Woman of the Year Award from Kelowna Women in Business for her work in helping other like-minded brand owners get their products on the shelves and thrive in the world of health and beauty.
Through her skincare and makeup retailer Portia-Ella, Michaud established a “business incubator” program, providing management, mentor-ship and shelf space so other women who have a focus on clean and low-waste beauty can have a start in the industry.
But, while Michaud has a strong track record of helping others, she feels the Orchard Park Mall has not returned the favour as her business, located in the mall, faces challenges brought on by the pandemic.
On the morning of Oct. 25, a Portia Ella employee called Michaud 10 minutes before the shop’s usual 10 a.m. opening time, stating she was having a panic attack. With no other staff members available to open the store, Michaud was forced to gather her three young children, including a newborn, bring them to work and cover for her employee. However, she did not arrive at the mall until noon. Despite the circumstances, Portia Ella was fined for failure to open on time.
According to Michaud, Orchard Park Mall recently increased the fine from $50 to $150 for failure to open on time, despite new challenges being presented every day such as under staffing and sickness that would make it difficult for stores to operate at the agreed-upon hours.
“To me, it’s not about the amount, it’s that they tripled (the fine),” said Michaud.
“It’s already so difficult as a small business to keep our clients coming and happy. Not being able to open on time already hurts us and on top of that, we’re being fined. I just feel like it’s coming from all sides. The mall is in a position where they can help and be a little more flexible and actually work with us. I worked with two-month-year-old wrapped on me and the mall actually told me personally that I had to, like it’s not their problem if I just had a baby.”
When the mall reopened after the initial outbreak, it saw many of its retailers operate differently, some remaining closed and others opened for a reduced period of time due to under staffing and a lack of foot traffic. But as case numbers went down and customers returned to the mall, policies reverted back and stores were once again forced to remain open for the duration of the mall’s hours.
“For example, if someone at a store has a fever, the whole team is done,” said Michaud. “So, with constraints such as this, as a small business, it’s extremely challenging to fulfill our contract that says when the mall is open, we must be open. These are unforeseen circumstances.”
According to Donna Markin, general manager of Orchard Park Mall, the landlord will not fine a business in an emergency, stating it supports its businesses during these unprecedented times. “Customers expect stores to be open when they visit the mall. It is a modest expectation but one we take seriously,” said Markin.
“While the landlord manages the overall mall, stores are responsible to manage their businesses. If a store has an emergency, for example, an employee calls in sick, making it impossible to open the store, we would be advised by the tenant that they had to close,” she said.
“There is no ramification for that action. Part of keeping the community safe is ensuring that employees are not coming to work sick – that is the public health guideline and we encourage our businesses to take that seriously.”
However, Michaud claimed she wasn’t given an opportunity to explain she had a sick employee before the business was fined.
Markin responded she was unable to comment on matters involving individual retailers in the mall, adding she believes it is doing its best to support its businesses during the pandemic.
“Like everyone and every business, managing in a pandemic environment is new to us,” said Markin.
Michaud believes the mall and other leasing tenants need to work closely together to get through the pandemic.
“It’s extremely difficult to find staff and it’s not like there are massive lines to work in retail right now because it can be dangerous.
“Right now we have three job openings. It’s very difficult to find the right people who are comfortable enough to work in public spaces right now, something has to give. Supporting small businesses is more important than ever and we need the support of the community, including other leasing tenants in the mall.”