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Kitsilano merchants seek creative ways to boost business

Members of Kitsilano’s West 4th Avenue Business Improvement Association (BIA) will convene for their annual general meeting on Nov. 1st,…

By Suzanne Ahearne , in Business , on October 25, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Members of Kitsilano’s West 4th Avenue Business Improvement Association (BIA) will convene for their annual general meeting on Nov. 1st, when they will finalize a proposed budget for the 2012-13 year and fill three positions on the board of directors.

Independent stores have moved out of this section of the 2000 block on West 4th to make way for new development.

Russ Davies, the BIA’s executive director, said this is an important year for owners of business and property on West 4th Ave. between Fir and Balsam. At the AGM held in 2010, members of the BIA voted to nearly triple its budget, to $400,500, in order to draw more retailers and ultimately, shoppers to the area.

The budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the second of a five-year term, is only expected to rise 1-3 percent, according to Peter Vaisbord, coordinator of Vancouver’s BIA program and author of its annual reports. The focus now is figuring out how to best put that money to work.

Kits tries to catch up

For years, the budget of the West 4th BIA had languished behind those of almost all the other 21 in the city.

It was less than half the budgets of Commercial Drive, Strathcona North and Kerrisdale, whose property values are most comparable to the eight-block strip on West 4th, estimated to be worth close to $400 million.

When Davies was hired by the board last year, merchants told him they felt they were falling behind other shopping districts like South Granville and Robson Street. They wanted their events and marketing to reflect the new face of the neighbourhood, not hark back to the old hippie days of Kits.

Davies knows all about what small shopping districts are up against. Before joining the 4th Ave. group, he was BIA director in White Rock (2005-2010) and BIA manager for Point Grey Village (2010). Prior to his tenure with the neighbourhood business associations, he was marketing director for Willowbrook, Lougheed and Park & Tilford malls. Their marketing budgets alone are in the millions, he said.

So last year, Davies wrote up a budget that surged 186 percent.

“The cost increase was controversial among the businesses,” said Vaisbord. In retrospect, he admitted that it may have been better for the BIA to increase its budget gradually over the previous 10 years to avoid the sticker shock.

Start with a party

Hell's Kitchen, a sponsor of last summer's Khatsahlano! street music festival.

Some the funds under the expanded budget have been used to host and promote neighbourhood events.

Grant McDonagh, owner of Zulu Records, a fixture of West 4th for the past 30 years, joined the board in 2010. He wants to give “young, creative entrepreneurs” a reason to set up shop there instead of somewhere else in the city, such as Main Street or Commercial Drive.

To that end, McDonagh helped launch the BIA-funded music and art street festival Khatsahlano! It cost $65,000 and is being proposed as an annual event.

An additional $12,500 promotional budget was allocated to each of four retail categories. The most recent BIA member to join the board, Hell’s Kitchen co-owner Sean Gregory, is working with other restaurateurs on a Kits version of “Dine Out,” a three-day set-price pairing of food and drink. He sees it as a way to re-invigorate the street with more nightlife.

Board member Donna Hohl, the owner of Coco’s Closet boutique, said new initiatives like September’s “Kits Fashion’s First Night,” which featured free valet parking, in-store licensed parties and sales, create community and bring new people to the area. She and other clothing retailers are currently planning a similar event for early December, ahead of the holidays.

Last year’s budget also included an $80,000 advertising budget for radio, print, web, social media and bus campaigns.

“Really,” said board member Donna Hohl, “it’s like an advertising co-op.”