One of White Rock’s most established gelato shops, situated in one of the most prominent locations in town, is going out of business.
Dolce Gelato has been serving homemade gelato for 20 years at 15045 Marine Dr., at the foot of the White Rock Pier. But come the end of July, that will no longer be the case, owner Davide Pacifici told Peace Arch News Monday.
He listed a string of unfortunate events that led to the shop’s demise, but the final straw, he said, was a recent 25 per cent increase in his rent.
Although the rent increase was a key factor in his decision to shut shop, Pacifici expressed no ill will about the situation.
“I don’t believe in fights. I’m a lover, not a fighter. And you know what, I believe in karma and I always say that after the hurricane, comes the sunshine. That’s my philosophy,” Pacifici said.
Pacifici’s landlord, Aaron Van Wachem, said in the two decades Dolce Gelato has been in business, rent was less than $3,000 per month, which is “far below market.”
Van Wachem said the proposed 25 per cent rent increase was to catch up Dolce Gelato with the surrounding market.
“I think they’ve enjoyed a highly discounted rent for 20 years and when we try to bring it up closer to the market, they really panicked. I think they’ve done really well to the point where they can take six months off every year for 20 years,” Van Wachem said.
Van Wachem said it was upsetting to hear on a radio newscast that the rent increase was being blamed for the shop closing.
He told PAN the increase was in motion prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the tenant didn’t provide a counter-offer, and he took issue with how he’s being portrayed in the media.
“Until you called me, no one bothered to get the other side of the story, which is frustrating for me because we have discounted their rent for 20 years and now everyone’s making all these crazy comments on Facebook about me. It’s so upside down. In reality, in my opinion, there should be some gratitude for the 20 years of discounted rent that afforded them the opportunity to travel the world every year for six months,” Van Wachem said.
Other expenses Van Wachem said aren’t being considered, are property taxes, gas, and water.
Dolce Gelato is just one of a number of businesses along the waterfront that have permanently closed in recent years.
In early 2017, the White Rock waterfront was gaining a reputation in the Lower Mainland of becoming a “ghost town.” Business owners struggled with the seasonal nature of the area’s popularity, parking costs and availability, lease rates, and other restaurant industry woes. The result left a number of storefronts vacant, some of which are still vacant to this day.
The event was held a few months prior to a number of unforeseen challenges that arose to stack the odds against waterfront entrepreneurs.
In September 2017, City of White Rock erected a fence around the Memorial Park before hosting an invitation-only ground-breaking ceremony for a multi-million dollar upgrade to the park. However, the ceremony came to a halt before the event could begin, following a tense confrontation between Semiahmoo First Nation and city officials.
Then-mayor Wayne Baldwin called off the ceremony after being handed a cease-and-desist order from SFN Chief Harley Chappell. Chappell described the site as a potential ancient burial ground, which needed further investigation before work could begin.
“We find this disrespectful to us, and our ancestors, in every way,” Chappell wrote at the time.
The park was fenced off for months before work began.
“Challenge number one was the job site in 2017,” Pacifici said. “Memorial Park took almost two years, basically closing down completely Marine Drive and no parking available.”
While the park was still under construction, a devastating windstorm destroyed White Rock’s iconic pier in December 2018. Memorial Park re-opened in April 2019, and the pier re-opened the following September.
However, the pier, promenade, parking and most beach access points were closed again in March due to concerns regarding physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But you see, the COVID-19, for me, is something that comes and goes. What scared me was the other situation that, honestly, I didn’t like so much. But that’s all I would like to say,” Pacifici said.
Pacifici, who said the store will remain open until the end of July, speaks fondly of his time operating Dolce Gelato. For many young Semiahmoo Peninsula students, the gelato shop served as their first job.
“It was a fun place to work,” he said.
He said he will miss his long-term customers, and thanked the community for the support.
“And I’m really sorry for everybody, and for the community of course. We don’t need to have established businesses, whatever they are, go away like this. It’s very sad.”
He hinted that he might re-start the business in a different location.
“After closing here and putting everything in storage, we will try to find a new location in the area, hopefully. We’ll start everything from scratch, brand new, fresh, and a positive attitude.”