Emily Lavender, right, owner of The Fort cafe on Queens Road, wears an astronaut suit in the cafe to ensure the health and safety of her customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured on the left is friend and customer Amanda Kuehl. (Submitted photo)

Business notes: Cafe owner dons astronaut suit to ensure customers’ safety during pandemic

A selection of news going on in the bustling Cowichan business community

A local business owner has taken to dressing up as an astronaut to ensure the health of her customers during the COVID-19 pandemic after recently reopening.

Emily Lavender opened The Fort, a retro video and board game café located on Queens Road in Duncan, in February but then closed temporarily in March during the health crisis.

Now that her doors are able to open again, she wants to encourage business by letting customers know they will be safe, and will also be in a fun place in her café, by dressing up as an astronaut.

“One of my favourite things about life is creativity and imagination,” said Lavender.

“We’re all experiencing a scary time right now, but we can take wearing masks and other precautions and make it fun and interesting so that this time can be a positive experience. That’s why I’m dressing up as an astronaut, it’s not only fun (who doesn’t want to be an astronaut?), but the astronaut helmet will be the ultimate safety mask protecting both customers and myself.”

Other safety measures are also in place at the café, including being open for private small group reservations only, which people can book on The Fort’s Instagram or Facebook page, or by calling 778-676-7299.

Lavender said she can also help people make their own astronaut helmets.


A survey of the local business community has found that 50 per cent of Cowichan businesses had temporarily or indefinitely shut down during the COVID-19 crisis, while 65 per cent of the businesses had seen revenue decreases of at least 75 per cent.

The survey, the first of a series that are being conducted by the Cowichan Valley Regional District and its Cowichan Strong partners in response to the unparalleled economic impacts of COVID-19, also found that a significant number of businesses have modified their business model and introduced online ordering or delivery options (30 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The full results of the COVID-19 Post Disaster Needs Assessment Survey can be reviewed on the CVRD website.

This was the first of a series of surveys that will be shared with the business community every four weeks for the next three months to assess the economic recovery progress.


A new retail cannabis store, called Father Nature’s Gifts, has opened on the corner of Mount Sicker Road and the Trans Canada Highway.

The store, which is adjacent to the Red Rooster restaurant at 8432 Trans Canada Hwy., opened June 15.

Owner Patrick Nadeau said that after he went through the lengthy regulatory process to open the store, his plans to open in late March were again waylaid by the COVID-19 crisis.

He said even waiting for the Plexiglas to prepare the store for operations during the pandemic took six weeks due to high demand.

“But we’re finally open now and we’re working to get the word out there that we are here,” Nadeau said.

“We’re waiting for a sign for the highway, and that should help, but some people have found out we’re here and open so we’re building a customer base already.”

Nadeau said he has between 30 and 40 varieties of cannabis, as well as edibles, and he expects his inventory will grow over time.

“We’re currently open Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and I plan to open seven days a week at a later date,” he said.

“COVID-19 rules apply in the store.”


One of the Cowichan region’s best kept secrets is Goldstream Heights Garden, Ponds & Patios, located at 1499 Trail Way, between Shawnigan Lake and Goldstream.

The two-acre nursery is currently focusing on perennials, trees and shrubs for people’s gardens for the summer months after the busy flower and vegetable-plant season of the spring months.

The nursery prides itself on its many plant varieties, including such favourites as tropical palms and banana trees, but also has garden supplies as well as ponds water features and patios.

Owner Wyatt Oliver said the business has everything people with gardens need, but it’s not as well known as it should be.

“We’re not on a major highway, but tucked away on a mountain road so many people don’t know we’re here,” he said.

“We’re as big as some of the larger nurseries in the region, and we encourage people to come and see what we have to offer.”

The nursery is open Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and rules around the COVID-pandemic currently apply.


Barbara Banke and Julia Jackson, from California, are the new owners of Mill Bay’s Unsworth Vineyards.

But the Turyk family, who have owned and operated the business for 10 years, said Unsworth Vineyards will continue to operate as a family-owned vineyard, winery and restaurant under the Unsworth name, all current employees will remain in their key roles and the family will continue to manage the business.

“All of us are excited at this opportunity to continue our vision that has evolved over the past 10 years, and with the new wealth of knowledge and experience behind us, to help take Unsworth to a new level in terms of the grapes we grow, the wines we produce and the guest experience we offer,” the family said in a statement.

“We expect that the ownership change will not only be beneficial for Unsworth, it will further enhance the perception of Vancouver Island as a premium wine-growing region, to the benefit of all participants.”


A number of local businesses have been recommended to be featured in DINE Magazine Canada, one of North America’s premier lifestyle publications.

DINE Magazine Canada recently reached out to Tourism Cowichan and Tourism Vancouver Island seeking the most romantic spots in Cowichan for local writer Linda Barnard to gush about in a future issue.

Oceanfront Suites Cowichan Bay, Cow Cafe, Alpina Restaurant and Villa Eyrie, Unsworth Vineyards, Bridgemans, and Westholme Tea Farm were chosen.

DINE focuses on food, wine, travel and hospitality in both print and online.


A partnership between the 49th Parallel grocery stores and Island Savings has raised approximately $40,000 for local food banks.

Donations for the cause were collected at all four 49th Parallel locations — Chemainus, Duncan, Ladysmith and Cedar — with the organization matching donations up to $10,000 made through cash or purchasing pre-packaged non-perishable food bags.

Island Savings chipped in by donating four barbecues, valued at more than $5,000, which were used as the grand prizes in each community.

The funds will go directly to the four community food banks through Island Savings’ signature cause, The Full Cupboard, an innovative community program designed to raise food, funds and awareness for food banks in the communities where Island Savings operates.

“With many of our seasonal fundraising events cancelled because of COVID-19, we knew that we had to find a way to raise the funds that our local food banks depend on,” says Kirsten Waller, branch manager at Island Savings in Chemainus.

“We couldn’t be prouder of our members and communities for stepping up to support this fundraiser in a big way.”

Paul McGregor, manager of the 49th Parallel location in Chemainus, said it’s wonderful to see communities in the region coming together during this time of need.

“Originally, we were only going to hold the fundraiser at our Chemainus location and after word spread, all of our locations came on board, and we couldn’t be happier with the results,” he said.

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