Landlord who loves Mount Pleasant helps indie businesses stay strong
A cluster of record shops, bookstores and restaurants thrives amid development pressures.
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Amidst sharply rising property values and development pressures, one group of independent retailers in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood have a distinct advantage: a landlord with an agenda.
“He wants this block to be alive,” said Nick Paraschos, the co-owner of a yet-to-be-named comic book store in the distinctive gray two-storey, triangle-shaped building on Main Street between Kingsway and Broadway. Paraschos and other tenants Metro spoke to declined to name their landlord.
The former RxComics went out of business in January, but Paraschos and another former employee decided to take over the lease and open up their own shop.
The building also houses hipster coffee shop Gene, Budgie’s Burritos, Dandelion Records, Pulp Fiction Books and several restaurants. Artists rent studio space on the second floor. The landlord keeps rents relatively low, and makes an effort to fill the building with independent businesses, say tenants.
“One of the reason that Mount Pleasant is so good is that we do have landowners who care,” said Mike Wiebe, a board member of the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association. “Those landowners should be appreciated because they’re making a difference by vetting the people who come in and not just putting in a pot shop.”
Small businesses across Vancouver are facing rising costs this year. With an average 40 per cent property assessment increase throughout Business Improvement Areas in the city, many will be hit with increased property tax costs this year, which commercial landlords pass on directly to most tenant businesses.
Mount Pleasant is one of the “hotspot” areas, with several new condos being built nearby and another area rezoned for tech industry office space. Businesses on Main Street between 7th and 2nd Avenue, adjacent to the new “digital zone,” have seen average property value increases of 100 per cent, Wiebe said.
“Speculation is hurting the neighbourhood,” he said.
Christopher Brayshaw, the owner of Pulp Fiction Books, also rents in the same building as Paraschos. Brayshaw now expects double-digit property assessment increases every year, but says he’s been able to keep up with the rising cost because his business makes more revenue every year. From his perspective, the area is as vibrant as ever. (Wiebe added that while a well-known restaurant, The Foundation, recently closed its doors, a local restaurant owner has shown interest in the space.)
Like many businesses, Brayshaw is paying the commercial tax rate on the potential to build condos, even though the landlord has no plans to develop the property. Brayshaw would like to see the province allow split assessments, where businesses pay the lower residential property tax rate on the yet-to-be-developed condos.
Paraschos hopes this year’s extreme property assessment increase was a one-time phenomenon. And he thinks the city should think about rewarding property owners who are making an effort to support independent businesses, not just speculating on future real estate deals.
“If it is a small property owner that owns the business,” he said, “maybe they should look into assisting those property owners with tax savings or incentives.”