VICTORIA -- Victoria businesses that have been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic are starting to reopen in modest ways, and are eagerly awaiting details from the province about a phased-in reopening of B.C.’s economy.

Keith Gage-Cole owns Heart & Sole shoes stores on Fort Street. He recently recently opened one of the two stores, but by appointment only.

Even still, he has had to lay off all 11 of his employees, and with mounting bills – including rent – he worries his business won’t survive much longer if the economy doesn't restart soon.

“This is a sinking ship,” Gage-Cole says. “The longer this goes on, the lower in the water we’re getting.”

Across the street, Vanity Fair antique store is fully open, albeit with reduced hours.

The store is 5,000 square feet in size, and staff say there’s plenty of room to physically distance.

Georgina Mortermalais works there, and says part of the reason it remains open during the pandemic is because it can’t afford to shut down, because the landlord is charging full rent.

“Almost forces us to keep open and do it on our own,” she says. “Just to keep the store’s survival.”

And Jolene Kraft, the owner of a nearby acupuncture studio which was forced to shut down weeks ago because of the province’s pandemic health guidelines, says she’s relieved to know the province will unveil its plans next week for a phased-in reopening of the economy.

“We have a month or two left in us,” she says. “Otherwise we may have to close.”

Despite the extreme struggles experienced by many small businesses, Jeff Bray, the head of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, says there is positive energy surrounding the news that a reopening plan for the economy is coming soon.

“I think there is a sense now of optimism, and certainly there is a sense from the public of pent up demand of people wanting to get out and about,” says Bray.

Still, for many businesses – like Skanda, a jewelry store on Fort Street – that optimism is tempered by a desire to make sure any reopening isn’t premature.

Mary Wakefield owns the store. She is excited for the economy to reopen, but only when it can be done safely.

“Hopefully, we won’t open to soon and then have to close down again,” she says.