Neighbourhood Economic Development

A friend recently posted online about a new store opening in Sapperton and was a bit dismayed it is going to be “another pharmacy”.

I share her concern to a degree, because I’ve watched excellent businesses in Sapperton shutter their shops due to a lack of walk-by traffic. Almost all businesses on the sleepy east end of E. Columbia Street are destination businesses such as vacuum repair, a karate dojo, specialized veterinarian surgery, home brewing supplies. There are few reasons to stroll this section with a retail mind now. Recently, the Bloom Bloom Room has rejigged her business to operate out of a warehouse rather than a more expensive retail space, and Cadeaux closed entirely, its signature pink building sold to a team of dermatologists who are, for the time being, holding it. I do frequent quite a few of the businesses in the neighbourhood, but that’s because I would be a customer of theirs no matter where they went. For example, I learn karate at the Hawkes Martial Arts dojo, I buy my home brewing supplies from Curtis at Barley’s Homebrewing.

A few of the people who commented on my friend’s post suggested the City should make rules about what sorts of business can rent empty store fronts, but the truth is, aside from a few regulated types of businesses like gun shops, cannabis dispensaries, childcare spaces, breweries, and apparently arcades that serve alcohol, the City has little jurisdiction over who gets to rent spaces. The main decider is the property owner and they are governed mostly by zoning.

“The extent of the City’s control over types of businesses locating here is via land use regulations and zoning,” said Blair Fryer, Director of Economic Development for the City of New Westminster when I reached out for clarification.

“The business referred to in the Facebook conversation is consistent with the zoning on this street,” he continues. “It is actually not a pharmacy per say but a ‘health service centre’ which, given the significant expansion underway at Royal Columbian Hospital, is not out of place in this area of the City.” For further info on C-3 zoning, including a list of the variety of businesses that could locate in this stretch of E Columbia, check out the City’s website (C-3 zoning info starts on page 16).

Show Me the Money

High turnover of product would be required to make a vinyl shop successful, right?

I also regularly hear that leasing costs are simply too high. But are they? Jolene Foreman, a commercial real estate agent and owner of CPS Realty says the rates are what the market will bear. “Commercial rents are calculated based on several different factors including, but not limited to: local and surrounding market rents, BC Assessment rates, location and use of units. Depending on how the current market is going [currently very HOT], landlords may wish to hold on to units. Thus keeping them vacant, offering to lease at above market rates or offering for short term leases only.  This gives the landlords more flexibility and reduces lost opportunity costs should the market continue to rise. For landlords it’s an investment business. In some situations, there may be a cost savings to keep a unit vacant while waiting for the market to rise.”

The Economic Development office at the City agrees. “We hear this too and if we went by the anecdotes rents are ‘too high’ everywhere,” says Fryer. “In fact, New West’s retail lease rates are competitive in the region (see Street Front Lease Rates on page 2 of this Cushman Wakefield report fromQ4 2016). Also, lease rates are set by property owners and while property values across Metro Vancouver are increasing, there are mechanisms in place that municipalities use to ensure business property taxes aren’t increased at a similar rate.”

BC Assessment (BCA) is responsible for determining a property’s assessed value which is used along with the City’s property tax rate for Business Class property to calculate the tax levy for 2017. Each year when the City sets property tax rates, they are restricted to having one tax rate for each property classification – there are nine classifications set by BCA. As part of their annual tax setting process, the City reviews the average market shift in each property class and then adjusts the tax rates to eliminate market changes.

“All municipalities do the same in order to ensure property tax revenues are stable and not subject to market swings,” says Fryer. “It provide a little more certainty for property owners regarding their annual property tax bill. So for 2017, the City reduced its business property tax rate in order to eliminate the average market shift of 12.1%.”

Great Business Ideas That Don’t Happen

In theory, people are going to buy a wedding dress only once. But, they also buy lunch, bridesmaid dresses and giftware.

One of the businesses I’d like to see in sleepy little Sapperton is a produce store, something like Langley Farmers Market on Kingsway just into Burnaby, or like a Kin’s where the focus is on produce but where you can also grab other essentials like eggs, milk, or tofu. There was a produce place, once, in what is now Royal City Physio (if you’ve ever wondered why their door looks like one of those automatic doors, that’s why!) but again, it comes back to this: there was not enough support to keep that business open. People choose to buy their produce at Save-On, Safeway, Superstore, or Walmart or even through delivery services like Spud.ca. Despite having free parking and decent prices, that produce shop shuttered its doors and a barbeque restaurant/organic shop gave it a go for a few months before the space was converted to the physiotherapy office.

The types of businesses in this neighbourhood aren’t necessarily for me (I haven’t needed physio for years, fortunately, and my pets haven’t needed eye surgery, thank goodness) but these are important parts of the local economy that shouldn’t be overlooked. We’ve all heard the lament of the bridal district in downtown New Westminster, right? All types of business are important in New Westminster, even if you never see yourself patronizing that business. I am never going to buy another wedding dress, but I see the bridal shop value to downtown New West in terms of economic spinoff, for example.

“A dynamic local economy includes a variety of businesses and services that create employment opportunities, provide services and create economic spin-off,” says Fryer.

Kendra Johnston from the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association echoes Fryer’s comments. “We understand how the bridal shops and other destination shopping businesses don’t necessarily serve local community, they do however create plenty of spinoff that supports other businesses locals find more appealing. The destination shopping of Downtown New West’s bridal shops have kept many other businesses going over the years and have been an overall positive in terms of economic development growth for our business community. As the population here grows and demand for other businesses increases, we will see different shops and restaurants open, those that will likely be more appealing to local residents.”

Business *Is* Booming in New West, but Change is Hard

In 2016, there were 609 active home based business licenses and a total of 2701 business licenses attached to a New Westminster street address (i.e. physically located in New West). If you subtract 609 from 2701 that leaves 2092 licensed “brick and mortar businesses” with New Westminster addresses. In a city with a population sitting at around 70,000 with only 15 square kilometres, these numbers seem robust to me. (Thank you to the Economic Development office for providing me the numbers.) They may not be all the businesses I want them to be, but frankly, they’re pretty good and increasing year over year.

Will I ever see a bagel shop in New West?

So, how can residents advocate for the types of businesses they want to open? One really simple way is to reach out to the businesses you love in other communities (LOOKING AT YOU, SOLLY’S BAGELS) and tell them New West is great and welcoming and needs them. Remind them a few times. Send emails and suggestions to their social media. Talk favourably about them to everyone you know. Encourage others to do the same.

Another way is to join committees. The Economic Development Advisory Committee is a standing committee at the City of New West. Take action and apply to be a member. Join your local residents’ association as well and talk about businesses in the area you live in. Get people talking about it.

“This is a popular topic of discussion at business roundtables we attended with the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce recently,” said Fryer. “New Westminster is a great place to invest and start a business. It’s important that business owners help spread that message to their peers and, in areas that aren’t served by a formal business improvement association, consider organizing together to help shape the future of their business district. As for getting a business started, the economic development section of the city website is good resource. We are constantly updating and adding new information that can provide assistance to entrepreneurs on decisions around where to locate along with local economic trends.”

Q10: Businesses Building Community

Picture this: soft blues on a low hum, floor-to-ceiling windows hugging a small stage filled with musicians, knee-tapping, and wide-mouthed smiles taking it all in. Local art graces every inch of available wall space. This feels like home. And that’s just night one. Come back the next night and savour the soft, rhythmic flow of imagistic poetry being shared in a cozy space in the back room where each artist revels in the fact that they have this place to be artists. And, if you still want to mix it up, come back again the next night and you’ll be taken on a rock ‘n’ roll journey where local bands own the stage doing what they do best. A place for music, theatre, art, and more. Finding a place is half the battle for most artists, and we’ve been holding our breath—until the Heritage Grill. Exhale.

On May 28, 2005, a gem was born. Located at 447 Columbia Street in downtown New Westminster, the Heritage Grill opened its doors to an already thriving and close-knit community. From day one, the Heritage Grill catered to every type of artist conceivable. Finally. A spot that wasn’t only about food and quickly “turning” over tables, but a place built on the promise of being a second home for anyone who wants it. This is—in my opinion—a rarity in a city all about “making a quick dollar.”

With a background in nightclubs and looking for a way out, Heritage Grill owner Paul Minhas— who grew up in Vernon and came to the lower mainland just after high school—arrived in New West with visions of jazz clubs, blues bands, and creating that “place to be.” When asked what he did in his spare time he replied, “what spare time?

“New West wasn’t ready for what I had in mind,” says Minhas. From live poetry, improv comedy, and blush shows to drag shows, the Heritage back lounge has given first starts to so many, including The Heritage Artist’s Society.

Paul Minhas has been advocating for artists in every single intersection for twelve years. Candice James of Poetry New West, (a local reading series that takes place every Sunday afternoon in The Grill’s back lounge, former Poet Laureate for New Westminster, and newly-dubbed Poet Emerita of New Westminster), speaks highly of Paul and The Grill. “I consider Paul Minhas to be the foremost “Arts” corporate citizen in the city. He has been a solid supporter of all my literary and artistic endeavours by donating time, space, and funds to the events I have held at the Heritage Grill. Poetry would never be as highly-visible in the city as it is now without Paul Minhas’ generous spirit and support.

We are living in a time where diversity and the idea of inclusivity sits heavy on the tongues of leaders in the arts. Paul Minhas doesn’t blink an eye when reaching out to support local artists because it’s something he does naturally, a goal for many of us as leaders in our given fields. “I don’t want to be just another restaurant.The people that support us wholeheartedly support us. Statistically, if I was just another restaurant, I wouldn’t have made it,” says Minhas.

“Times are changing, people are changing, demographics are changing.” The Heritage Grill is keeping up the pace without ever losing its original appeal. In addition to the Grill, Minhas also owns Judge Begbie’s, which is just down the street. While maintaining the sports theme, this pub is definitely a reflection of the Heritage Grill. Where else will you find a Celtic Acadian night where the crowd is encouraged to join in? One of the most intriguing nights, in my opinion, is Friday’s Memphis to Orleans. Although a different vibe and space, there’s no doubt in my mind that Judge Begbie’s will be a game-changer for new people moving to the city.

With the pace at which neighbourhoods change, New Westminster is proud of the Heritage Grill, and for good reason. In thinking about the city as a whole, strolling past the heritage houses that line the blocks in Queens, I think about Paul’s words: “New West is a small city within a big city. We want to stand out. Kits is Kits, Commercial is Commercial.” It’s obvious to me that New West has a unique voice of its own and exudes this unexplainable energy that is in no way muted by the shouts and screams of its surrounding big sister cities.

If you haven’t yet been inside the Heritage Grill, one of the most immediate things you will notice is the mirrors lining the entire right side. This is a very intimate thing: watching yourself come in, and watching yourself leave—changed. There’s something to be said about leaving with a sense of place and knowing that if you look back on your way out that it won’t be your last. There’s a trust there and, for the most part, it’s unspoken. I thought about the motivation behind lining the walls with mirrors, and wondered if it was an intentional thing. I almost stopped in my tracks to turn back around and ask, but I kept walking, hands deep in my pockets, thinking about the mirrors and how many people in this city stopped to enjoy the space, even if just for a moment, and how many have just stopped to reflect.

Before I left, I asked Paul what he would do if he wasn’t running the Heritage Grill. His answer was perfect: “I would buy a one-way ticket somewhere, pick up my backpack, and never look back.

 

One district, two district, three district HOP: The Ultimate New West Shop Hop

The Downtown New Westminster BIA and Uptown New Westminster BA are teaming up with Sapperton Merchants for a unique shopping experience – The Ultimate New West Shop Hop. We’re coming together to encourage New Westminster residents to support their local merchants and discover some great shops in other neighbourhoods.

From February 10th to 19th, passport holders who collect one stamp from each district by redeeming the offer on the passport will be entered to win one of three phenomenal prize packs, each valued at well over $500. Shoppers who frequent more than three merchants will increase their chances to win with additional entries. And trust me…you want to win one of these prizes.

The passports can be picked up at any participating merchant, the Tourism New West kiosk at the Anvil Centre and the Royal City Centre admin office.

We’re really excited to be doing this initiative across the shopping districts, highlighting some of the best local independent businesses in New West and promoting each of them. Some of these businesses have been in New West for decades, and some are just starting out, but all of them are a key component to what makes this city so great.   And really, anything that we can do to encourage people to shop locally is good for everyone.

We’re also very aware that this past winter has been hard on many local businesses. These people are our neighbours. Our friends. Now is a great time check out a shop that you haven’t visited before, try a new class, or simply have a great cup of coffee with a friend.

The participating merchants are as follows…

UPTOWN
Pink Ribbon Bakery
Michelle Dupre Design & Company
Koyabell Fitness
Russian Spoon
Beach House Tanning & Swimwear
BLENZ The Canadian Coffee Company
Carlson Wagonlit Travel
Doctor Beauty
Cartwright Jewelers
The Gallery at Queen’s Park

DOWNTOWN
Bosley’s Pet Store
Mid-Century Modern Home
Polo Health + Longevity Centre
Old Crow Coffee Co.
Lofty Living Lifestyles
Hive City
Karma Teachers
Good Omen
Brick & Mortar Living
Mila + Paige
Zoom Hair Salon
Gathered Roots Acupuncture

SAPPERTON
MOVE – Yoga.Pilates.Dance Studio
Fireside Public House
Mindful Mutts
Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies
Fratelli Authentic Italian Bakery
Bloom Bloom Room
Kerry’s Boutique
Cadeaux Boutique & Day Spa

 

Q10: Albert Kamba: Building Community

Photos by Olga Zamudio

Passing along Twelfth Street, you may not notice Salon Elegant, particularly if you’re not in need of barbering services. But there’s more going on behind the black awning than one would initially guess. If you venture inside, you’ll find a lively space where you might feel drawn to sit down and hang out for a while. Albert Kamba, who runs the shop, is passionately building something of a community centre, a place where youth can be trained in the art of barbering.

There’s plenty of turnover along that strip of Twelfth Street and many shuttered businesses surround the salon, yet his business is clearly thriving.

Salon Elegant opened in 2006 as a two-chair service before expanding to the current location. Albert has a fascinating life story that includes life in the Congo and travels in Europe before becoming a one-handed barber after a car accident. There must be many stories to be told about these adventures, yet what really lights him up is talking about training young men and women. He’s surprised to hear that people have heard his story.

About eight years ago, he began by training his nephew who lived in his community. After finishing high school, the man was unsure what he wanted to do. College didn’t seem like the right fit. Albert took him in and taught him the trade. He says that young men need to be helped, they need guidance to find their way. It’s training and mentorship.

Albert calls barbering a noble job: “You meet everyone—lawyers, bus drivers, politicians…You get to know them. You help them.”

And not just with their hair. Albert tells of connecting people who need a ride from the airport and helping families who are moving. When you become a customer, you become a community member.

A visit to the salon shows the truth in his words. At 10:30am, before the salon even opens, people start to flood in. They perch comfortably in the hairdressing chairs and lounge on the couches. Albert says they often don’t want to leave after they get their haircut and hang out to continue the conversations. The atmosphere is warm and relaxed. He often adds little extras to the salon like TVs showing sports or hosting special parties. The salon is in constant flux, and this keeps it interesting.

Albert casually mentions that he’s a pretty superb barber, and there’s no reason to doubt his words. Customers flock to the salon from all over the Lower Mainland. He thinks Chilliwack, Surrey, and Maple Ridge need more barbers. He hopes that the youth he trains can one day franchise the salon to diverse locations.

“It’s not about making a million,” Albert says. “It’s about providing the service.”  

He emphasizes people from all different backgrounds come to the salon. His most recent trainee is a young woman from Vietnam. She’s already been working with him over eight months. Albert emphasizes the length of time his trainees stay with him repeatedly—eight years, six years, four years…They don’t take his training and leave, but stay on as staff and continue to work in the salon. They enjoy the lifestyle, he says, as well as the trade.

Relationships are clearly what Salon Elegant is all about. He speaks about his customers’ loyalty. They often hear about him by word-of-mouth and, he openly acknowledges, a one-handed barber is something of a novelty. But once they have their hair cut by him or one of his trainees they are hooked and become regulars.

“New Westminster made me who I am,” he says, without a hint of hesitation.

Clearly a man of ambition and vision, what is next for Albert? He has his answer at the ready: a barbering school. He has many young people requesting to learn from him and he’s not equipped to deal with the large number of requests. Without any formal or informal advertising, how do people find out about his low-key training program? Word of mouth, of course. The trainees tell their friends and those friends come to Albert requesting to be trained by him. He wants to take them all in, especially since there’s such a need for quality barbering services, but to do so he needs a formal school.

It seems obvious: the demand for quality barbers matches elegantly with the demand for his training. He can pass on what he knows about creating a strong relationship with customers and about cutting their hair just right.

The school isn’t currently in the works, but the idea is percolating. In the meantime, there are youth to be trained, the salon to be run, people to be helped with the day-to-day activities of their lives. And always hair to be cut.

Need a haircut? Check out Salon Elegant at 806 Twelfth Street or at salon-elegant.com.

Secret Santa Community Edition # 8

Here’s number eight in our River Market Secret Santa series. (Numbers 1234, 5, 6, and 7. ) 

For many, the focus from everyday life turns towards the spirit of giving during the holiday season. This year River Market invited citizens from New Westminster to shop for gifts on River Market’s dollar. Many would say these citizens are actively engaged in making this wonderful city better each day. These individuals were tasked to hand pick each item which they thought would make a great gift and their only parameter was that they had $50 to spend. Once they were done their shopping, they would wrap the gift and deliver it to an organization of their choice in New West.

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In this edition # 8 of the Secret Santa series, River Market asked Neal Michael to get his shop on. Neal lives here and has organized many events that bring community together such as Popluck, Pecha Kucha, Stop and Stare, etc. Neal chose to shop for the Spirit of the Children Society. “I feel like as an organization it’s overlooked and under recognized. I like that a lot of the programs are ones that strengthen family connections. As a teacher I am passionate about youth and they do a lot for the youth of Indigenous communities.”

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They specifically asked for a gift card from Donald’s Market to go towards their Traditional Kitchen for Aboriginal Families and Youth and they always need fresh fruit and veggies and do some of their shopping at Donald’, so Neal picked up a selection of gift cards.

neal-michaelAnd if Neal is on your list of people to buy a Secret Santa gift for, check out Canteen and Supply. “We are foodies who love to cook and they have so many good things,” he says.

A More Charming Christmas

The New Westminster Downtown Business Improvement Association, who won the Creative Marketing Innovator of the Year in 2015, has launched a fun Christmas promotion you might want to take note of.

more-charming

Each day in December, they’re releasing their picks for unique and interesting gifts. We’re flattered they thought highly enough of us to include a Tenth to the Fraser subscription on Day One of their promotion!  I had a chance to chat with Angie Whitfield, the Program and Events Manager, about this promo.

The BIA team! Trestin, Angie, and Kendra.
The BIA team! Trestin, Angie, and Kendra.

Tenth: Who’s writing these?

“The posts are written by our Digital Marketing Coordinator, Trestin Yuen, with input from our team and local businesses,” said Whitfield. “We asked businesses in Downtown New West to submit their best gifts and experiences this holiday season. Then the BIA team went through all the submissions to create our curated lists; think of it as Oprah’s Favourite Things, meets the Goop Gift Guide, but for the everyday person with a local New Westminster flare.”

Tenth: Why did you decide to do this?

“We have so many great businesses in Downtown New West now and we thought this would be a good way to profile them. Over the twenty-four days we’re focusing on unique gifts and highlighting the many local holiday experiences. We really think Downtown New West can offer everyone #AMoreCharmingChristmas if they stay local and shop in their own neighbourhood.”

Tenth: What’s on your Christmas wish list?

Whitfield is super specific in her fast answer: “Mila + Paige has just released their holiday gift baskets. They’re brilliant! Everything from the ‘Can’t Go Wrong’ basket to the ‘Sexy Time’. I have my eye on the ‘Rosé Lover package’.”