Carolyn Bartkowski can’t afford to move, so she’s closing her downtown business, shutting the doors after 20 years.
“It’s no wonder why businesses don’t stay in our downtown core,” she says. “I’m totally frustrated because there’s absolutely no place to go in town that’s cheap enough.”
She’s been looking for a new home for Carolyn’s Used Book Store for the last four months after receiving notice from her landlord that she has to vacate by July.
Bartkowski has been renting a 900-sq- foot shop on Dewdney Trunk Road and 228th Street for the past six years.
Bartkowski has been checking for a place to relocate, but spots she’s found are either too large, too small or a mess and require thousands of dollars to make presentable.
Bartkowski had been getting a rental bargain, paying only $1,433 monthly for 900 sq. feet.
The last time she moved it took her a year to recover and rebuild her client base. So unless she can find the perfect space with lots of parking, that will be the end of her business that’s helping in her retirement.
Despite her struggle, commercial leasing rates in downtown Maple Ridge are lower than those in many parts of Metro Vancouver. Rental rates range between $18 and $35 a square foot in Maple Ridge. Anything under $20 is low, said Ineke Boekhorst, executive-director with the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association.
She also challenges the view that businesses are departing from the downtown. It’s actually the other way around.
“It’s filling up really quickly. It’s pretty hard to find spots,” said Boekhorst.
For instance, the building on 224th Street, vacated Oct. 1 by HSBC, has already been filled by a finance company.
As soon as one store empties, it’s filled by another, she added.
“There are not a lot of vacancies. We don’t have it.”
For instance, while Maple Ridge Cycle moved from its prime spot on Lougheed Highway and 225th Street, it reopened around the corner on Fraser Street. In the meantime, the new owner of the building has renovated the spot formerly occupied by the cycle shop.
One option for a book store would be sharing a space with a coffee shop, Boekhorst suggested.
She agreed, though, that many buildings need work and noted the BIA’s facade improvement program helps builders with those costs.
As for landlords raising rents and pushing people out of the downtown, “I don’t think property owners are raising their rents right now. The economy is in such a state, that you’re looking for a stable tenant that will make the rent,” Boekhorst said.
At the Maple Ridge News office on 119th Avenue, the monthly leasing cost has increased only $300 over five years.
Jones says if owners raise rents they risk losing their tenants. When it comes to offshore investors, they’re looking more for a safe place to invest their money rather than raking in rental income.
“The rents that I’ve charge have changed very little in the past 20 years.
“I haven’t seen that people are moving out where the rents are too high.”
But what is hurting are the annual increases in property taxes slapped on by the municipality.
Those are often included in the rental bill, leaving the tenant to cover those increases.
Jones says the rates he charges are reasonable. “That’s why I don’t have vacancies.”
Jones says Maple Ridge’s downtown has changed little over the past several years, while large commercial projects go up in neighbouring cities. “But there’s no expansion [in Maple Ridge], and that’s amazing.”
However, he liked the direction that the downtown is moving as more residential projects continue to be built, which in turn will support commercial enterprises.
“That will be wonderful.”