VANCOUVER – Vancouver’s downtown business community will be watching the Vancouver Canucks set off on their Stanley Cup run with the same excitement as most fans, but business owners are also ensuring they’re ready just in case those same fans ignore the team’s latest marketing campaign aimed at averting another riot.
The first round of the Western Conference playoffs begins tonight at Rogers Arena, with the Canucks hosting the Los Angeles Kings.
But with memories of last year’s melee etched into the collective consciousness of the city, local business representatives say they’re hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
“I think we’re going into this year’s playoffs with a sense of confidence that hopefully what occurred last year will not occur again,” said Wynne Powell, president and CEO of London Drugs.
“The feelings to the riots of last year are still very raw. Staff are still affected by it and one should not have to worry about having your life threatened by having a great job in a store in downtown Vancouver.”
Hit hard by hooligans, the company’s Granville Street store lost $400,000 in products because of thefts and suffered $250,000 in damage, said Powell.
Staff were forced to hide from looters in a secure lock-up room, he said, and two employees required professional help because they were so traumatized.
Powell said the company is not taking any chances and is increasing security.
He said the store will supplement break-proof glass and burglar bars with a metal grill and a full contingent of security to make the store a “very unfriendly place to attack.”
In the city, too, much has changed since the June 15, 2011 riot that cost businesses millions of dollars in damage, led to nearly 80 criminal charges and sparked some serious soul searching by members of the public, elected officials and police.
Three reports were written about the downtown debacle, concluding, in part, that too many people were downtown, and they were drinking too much booze.
At the end of March, the Vancouver Canucks kicked off an ad campaign that boasted “this is our home,” and asked fans to celebrate responsibly.
At about the same time, the City of Vancouver released plans for this year’s playoff run. There will be no giant TV screens or mass gatherings downtown, with city officials opting instead for smaller block parties and community-centre events.
“I think everybody’s worked very hard to put their heads together and come up with a plan that hopefully will achieve the outcome we need,” said Powell.
“Now it’s up to us in the public and up to us business people to make sure that we encourage appropriate behaviour. And if appropriate behaviour doesn’t happen, we believe the police will respond in an appropriate way to deal with it.”
J.J. Guerrero, founder of Canucks Hockey Blog and a former employee of Orca Bay Sports&Entertainment, said he thinks Vancouverites are excited, especially after the team won its second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy.
The trophy is given to the team with the most regular-season points.
“I’m not sure if last year’s riot has dampened people’s moods this year, but I think everyone is definitely more conscious of the possibly of it reoccurring,” he said in an email. “That could be a good thing if people don’t want history to repeat itself.”
Guerrero said the city’s plans will help by removing large groups of people from the downtown core.
But he said crowds could still remain a problem, adding that he hopes city officials have a plan in place to deal with large groups of people, whether they’re downtown, or in smaller centres.
Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, said there’s no anxiety among members who feel positive and relieved about this year’s celebrations, especially after the city announced there will be no large public gatherings.
“I think we’re feeling optimistic about our chances, and I think certainly we’re feeling optimistic about how fans will behave, as well, and celebrate more responsibly,” said Gauthier.
In fact, many bars and restaurants with television screens are preparing to be full and are asking fans to make reservations, said Gauthier.
But Gauthier said their efforts would get a boost if the court process against those charged in the damage of last year moved faster.
“We have to see more of the sentences being meted out by the courts as a result of last year’s riot, and we’ve only had one,” he added.
“We need to see more of those just to send a very clear message that that kind of behaviour won’t be tolerated.”