A local retail expert says the arrival of online retail giant Amazon could potentially benefit Sidney provided certain conditions are met, but also issued a warning.
“This is Godzilla, so we have to tread carefully,” said Richard Talbot of Talbot Consultants, a Sidney resident who has consulted countless national and international retailers for more than 40 years.
He drew that analogy after the Victoria Airport Authority announced Wednesday that Amazon will be the tenant of York Realty, which plans to build a scaled-down version of the massive warehouse first presented in April 2021 on an industrial-zoned lot on airport land at the corner of Beacon Avenue West, McDonald Park Road and Galaran Road.
Talbot said Sidney will benefit from increased employment. Proponents of the project like VAA and the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce have also pointed to the additional tax revenue as a benefit.
But the prospect of Amazon coming to the Saanich Peninsula could also produce some effects which may not be welcomed.
“Overall, you are going to have increased employment for Sidney, which is going to put pressure on employee housing, which is something we are desperately short of,” said Talbot. “It’s going to put pressure on public transit because workers will probably have to come from (the) West Shore. So there are going to be a bunch of peripheral pressures, but the major one is still the intersection.”
Talbot points to the state of the intersection at Galaran Road and Beacon Avenue West. All parties involved have promised to improve that infrastructure to handle the additional traffic, but it is not clear yet what this improvement will look like, how much it will cost and how it will be paid for. Two other nearby intersections — Beacon Avenue West and Stirling Way as well as Beacon Avenue and Highway 17 — are also in need of improvements.
While Sidney’s location makes sense from the perspective of Amazon, its presence will increase congestion in the area, said Talbot. Provided authorities deal with this aspect, Amazon’s arrival could be a positive for Sidney, he said.
So how will the presence of Amazon impact local retailers? It will impact their employment pool, he said. Low-paid workers will have the alternative of working for a major employer with benefits across the road in Sidney’s industrial park, he said. “So there will be additional competition for employees.”
This said, the facility is not going to compete for dollars of local retailers. “It’s not a Costco,” he said. “They are not going to be selling from their site, and whether we like it or not, the Amazons of the world are here and the local retailers need to learn how to operate with them. If they can survive COVID-19, they can survive Amazon.”
In fact, the presence of Amazon on the Saanich Peninsula could benefit small-scale retail and manufacturing, because Amazon has in the past served as a major distribution source for those businesses, he said. “So it’s not all negative. There are some positives.”
This said, Talbot also drew attention to Amazon’s practice of taking over businesses with successful products and incumbent MP Elizabeth May earlier this year (not yet knowing that Amazon would be coming to Sidney) raised concerns about the company’s potential impact on the local business community.
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