From the Daily Scot:
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Founder and Co-Executive Director of LOCO BC Amy Robinson for quite a few years now through my sister. Amy and her team are passionate about all things great about local businesses, their under-appreciated economic contributions, how they support local jobs and communities, and all the great sustainability aspects that come with supporting people in your own backyard.
Amy and her team put together the following article. Please also check out what LOCO BC does by visiting their website: www.locobc.com
Will Densification Bring an End to Independent Business in Vancouver?
by Amy Robinson
Our unique neighbourhoods and local business community are at risk of gentrification in the race to densify our housing stock without including better planning for ground floor retail spaces.
Ground floor retail businesses influence how we interact with our city, whether walking, cycling, driving or on transit. Development along commercial corridors is increasingly creating a gentrified retail environment and Vancouver risks losing the unique character of its neighbourhoods.
Residents feel the change when new condos bring lifeless, large format retail spaces to their communities. When Shopper’s Drug Mart set up shop on Main Street at the corner of 18th, residents appealed to the company to make more of an effort to fit into the neighbourhood.
Residents are asking that new retail on the street better reflect the historic and eclectic character of one of the city’s oldest streets. “We can’t stop development, and that’s fine, but they are one of the first, not big box, but chain kind of stores to go in on Main Street, so they will have a big influence on how future ones might think that they’re going to develop there.”
The company replied to community efforts by saying they were simply leasing a space in a development whose design was approved by the city.
Ironically, one independent business that attempted to make another commercial condo space further down Main Street more unique was taken to task by the city. Popular independent restaurant East is East (Chai Gallery Restaurant) erected a wooden awning to reflect their business concept, one “built on using natural, sustainable materials in all aspects of the restaurant – in both design and cuisine”. The company was denied an occupancy permit that delayed opening. The restaurant refused, saying the city was “forcing us to change our nature-inspired design and use non-organic materials compromises the heart of what East is East stands for…[we are] building a new and expanded venue to bring world-class music, art and culture to Main St. However, the city planning department is demanding that we change our façade and outdoor patio to match their sterile vision of Main St.”
Chai Gallery’s sign may not be your thing, but it represents a fight to save the independence and spirit of local business in the city. In Hastings Sunrise, Dunbar, Marpole, South Main Street, Strathcona and other parts of the City, entire City blocks of local, independent retailers are being evicted to make room for new developments that provide increased housing density. That loss means that unique independent businesses are often being replaced with chain stores that leak wealth from our local economy.
Local businesses contribute more to our economy because their ownership is here (circulating profits), their management is here (circulating wages from good jobs), and they more often use local suppliers (circulating their purchasing dollars). Big chains have dispersed shareholders, corporate head offices elsewhere, and centralized supply chains that don’t support local suppliers for their marketing, web development, office supply, banking and other needs. The vast majority of dollars that flow into multi-national chain stores flows right back out of our community. Research shows that when consumers spend $1 with a chain, only 18c stays in the community, versus 45c for independent business. That’s 2.6x more local recirculation of dollars by local businesses!
Another example of the fight for unique, independent retail is being fought on West Broadway. Block after block of vibrant local businesses are being replaced with four and five story developments. Popular locally owned stores like Kids Books are being forced to move in order to make way for new development. One only has to look at similar developments east and west of that block for an example of what’s coming. These developments are filled with Shopper’s Drug Mark, McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s and the like. The convenience of these types of stores comes at the cost of local economic development as well as neighbourhood character.
Some of the constraints to local businesses relocating to these new developments are:
- The floor plates are designed for larger format chain stores who can afford large lease contracts
- Developers require proof that the tenant has several years worth of rental income in the bank
- Rents are too high in newly developed properties
How do we create opportunities for local economic development as we grow our cities? We’d like to see Cities need to search for best practices, and also engage residents and businesses into a conversation about what kind of planning is needed to keep independent businesses in our communities. Without this effort we risk losing them and the ways they create wealth, forever.
 Vancouver Courier. 2012. Vancouver resident wants Shoppers to adopt Main Street feel. Accessed 22-Jan-2016 from – See more here.
 Vancity Buzz. 2012. East is East Fights to Save Organic Signage.