VICTORIA -- As hard as the past six months have been for most businesses in downtown Victoria, many will likely be in for a tougher time in the months to come.

Natalie King manages The Hotel Rialto. She says a variety of challenges ahead create a pessimistic forecast for many businesses.

“I think everyone’s expectations for the end of September is for things to go off a little bit of a cliff,” she said Friday.

Restaurants are one of the most precarious businesses, according to Jeff Bray, of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.

Bray says downtown office buildings are now only about 30 per cent full of workers, due to the pandemic.

As a result, far fewer workers are around to go out for lunch, a major staple for many downtown restaurants.

He says the slowed local foot traffic will only be compounded once the already-slow tourist season grinds to a halt in the coming weeks, and he’s imploring folks to return to work downtown.

“We need our public servants and our workers to safely find ways to come back into the office and support that local downtown economy,” Bray says.

For restaurants, the bad news doesn’t end there.

This week, the province ordered all bars and restaurants to end liquor sales at 10 pm. That is expected to eat into he bottom line for many restaurants that are already barely hanging on.

And, while expanded patios have been a salvation for many eateries and bars — in some cases making a huge difference in counteracting reduced indoor capacities due to physical distancing — their benefit may soon be winding down with cooler, wetter weather in the fall and winter that is less conducive to sitting outside.

Nicole Turner works at Pagliacci’s restaurant in downtown Victoria.

She says the restaurant’s patio has been a wonderful addition this summer, and has allowed them to actually expand their capacity beyond pre-pandemic levels. The prospect of the patio losing its appeal as the weather worsens is daunting.

“It’s not something any of us want to begin to even process,” she says. “But it is something we need to look at.”

The city’s expanded patios, which have taken over parts of streets and sidewalks, are currently only permitted until Oct. 31.

Victoria’s mayor, Lisa Helps, says she hopes the province agrees to extend liquor licensing for patios beyond that date, and would like to see the city do its part by extending the permits for them indefinitely.

“I hope that the patios that are out there stay for forever,” Helps said Friday. “Not just beyond October 31st, but for the long term.”

That wish could be a small silver lining in a dark winter ahead for many businesses.