For almost 20 years, Alfred and Angela Chan fashioned floral arrangements and sold them to a loyal community of customers in the Cambie Village. But next week the Chans will close the doors of Arts Flowers and Gifts for good.
“It’s too hard to do business on Cambie Street,” said Alfred Chan.
More than a year since the completion of the contested “cut-and-cover” construction of Vancouver’s Canada Line, some Cambie merchants are struggling. Others claim they have yet to experience any benefit from the $2-billion transit project.
The Chans’ small family business is only one of a long list of Cambie Street casualties. Many struggled to survive, some closed for good and others took their business elsewhere.
Tough times prevail
Construction on the rapid transit project, which connects downtown Vancouver to Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport, lasted almost four years.
Dust, noise, fences and road closures drove customers elsewhere, according to a Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey.
By 2007, 75 per cent of business owners along the 19-kilometre stretch of the Canada Line reported decreased sales, averaging a 36 per cent drop, according to the report.
Prior to construction, merchants were assured there would be minimal impact on business. But a last minute decision to use the more intrusive “cut-and-cover” construction method has had a lasting impact.
“There was a fence like you were sitting in a jail. [It was] hard to move, and no one could stop their cars in front,” Chan said, recalling the tough construction period.
Better business future?
The Chans, like many other Cambie merchants, remained hopeful that business would pick up and their patience would pay off.
Some B.C. politicians defending the project presented a message of hope for the Cambie merchants at the time.
“There will be some significant benefits,” Minister Kevin Falcon said in 2007.
But for many, these promises never materialized.
“I don’t think that business can improve much in the next few years,” said Chan, adding that business is even worse now than before construction began in 2005.
Leonard Schein, with the Cambie Village Business Association, said business is back to normal for him, but added “a lot of people lost a lot of money.”
Businesses located near Canada Line stations have benefited, Schein said.
Sixteen blocks separate the King Edward and Broadway-City Hall stations. Much of the Cambie Village is situated between them.
Merchants are not alone
“Some landlords that are really good in the village lowered their rent during the construction,” Schein said. “I guess now they’re playing catch up.”
Many businesses have faced steep rent increases in the past months. The Chans received notice that their rent would be increased by $500 – almost 20 per cent.
“Properties took a hit too because some tenants struggled to pay the rent,” said Peter Lee, who operates Camy Properties. His company, which manages several properties on Cambie, offered a 15 per cent discount to its tenants during construction.
Unlike some management firms, Camy has not increased rent above “market rate” since construction finished, Lee said.
But Georgina Kwei, co-owner of Kube Computers, said Camy raised their rent by an unfair amount.
This month Kwei uprooted and moved her business six blocks east to Main Street. She said the rent increase was too high, though she admits other factors contributed to the decision.
For the courts to decide
Cambie merchants and property owners are still looking for answers.
A 2009 B.C. Supreme Court ruling awarded former Cambie merchant, Susan Hayes, $600,000 in damages.
In February the courts approved a class-action lawsuit on behalf of another 40 Cambie merchants.
“There was all this talk about how the merchants will benefit, so suck it up. But I can’t say for sure that that has occurred, even with the Canada Line in place,” Kwei said.
The Chans have had enough and now plan to retire. They do not expect a payout.
“If they have any answer, they will let us know,” said Chan. “But we are not hopeful.”