Main Street revival

There are promising signs of an entrepreneurial renewal in Cloverdale, where merchants are betting on the historic centre.

What a difference a year makes.

In the past 12 months, a handful of new businesses have opened up in Cloverdale’s historic downtown.

Consider the two blocks of 176 Street between 58 and 56A streets, where the number of empty storefronts has dwindled as new additions like a boutique-style pub, several funky antiques and collectibles stores, the local MLA and even a paintball supply store have taken up shop.

There have been some losses: Cloverdale landmark Dann’s Electronics closed down in January when Allan Dann retired at age 88, and a small supermarket that supplied residents and businesses alike is gone – but overall the picture is looking as healthy as it’s been in years.

As Small Business Month in B.C. comes to a close, you can’t help but think Cloverdale’s downtown is on an upward swing.

Most small businesses employ fewer than five employees, but when it comes to the B.C. economy, they do some heavy lifting.

Small businesses represent 98 per cent of all businesses in the province, so it’s no surprise that a healthy Main Street is greeted as encouraging news by people like Ben Wevers, interim executive director of the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce.

Wevers says there’s a palpable sense of optimism along Cloverdale’s 176 Street, the heart of the historic town centre’s business district.

“There’s a very brand new vibe on the street,” Wevers says. “You can feel it in the air.”

Business inquiries are up at Destination Cloverdale, the 176 Street headquarters of the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce and the Cloverdale Business Improvement Association, a first stop for visitors sizing up opportunities.

“People are coming into the Chamber asking about storefronts,” says Wevers. “What Paul (Orazietti of the Cloverdale BIA) and I are trying to do is steer them to the right people.”

He notes the former grocery store up the street is being renovated to accommodate several new businesses.

He’s also thrilled with news that the owners of The Vault Restaurant are opening up a second restaurant in Cloverdale two blocks to the south.

Co-owner Aaron Hotell said the location – near Highway 10 – was irresistible, and explains Cloverdale is a natural for investment. It’s accessible as a destination, affordable in terms of investment, and home to a growing population of residents in their 30s and 40s – people who are used to a more urban lifestyle.

Dramatic residential growth in the area has spurred interest from entrepreneurs, says Wevers, who adds established merchants and other movers and shakers are taking note, too.

Newly-elected Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Stephanie Cadieux deliberately located her constituency office in the historic centre to be close to the action.

And this month, Janet de Brouwer of Love Those Shoes moved her store into the Bank of Montreal building at the southeast corner of 176 Street and 57 Avenue – across from another new establishment, The Henry Public House, one of string of boutique-style pubs operated by Langley-based Joseph Richard Group.

“To me, that creates a new vibe in the whole corridor,” says Wevers, who points out even B.C. Cabinet Minister Minister Shirley Bond [pictured at left, chatting with Wevers – Jennifer Lang photo] remarked on Cloverdale’s appeal when she was at the opening of Cadieux’s office.

“You don’t see anything like that anywhere else in the province,” the Prince George area representative told him.

“Cloverdale is a gem,” he says. “We are not a big box area and we will never be.”

Things are looking good one block east on 176A Street, too. “Even their storefronts are almost all full.”

With all this good news, there is a hitch, however, and that’s that public transportation is lagging behind demand in the area. Lobbying and acting as a voice for business to senior levels of government is one of the roles of the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 400 business, from as far away as 152 Street and Highway 10 to Clayton Crossing at 188 and Fraser Highway.

Wevers hopes the arrival of businesses like Retro Mod, the Bower Bird Stop, The Abode, and Timeless Treasures Antiques signal a return to Cloverdale’s former heyday as the Antique Capital of B.C., a title that has been usurped by places like Fort Langley.

The past year has also seen the addition of two important new heritage attractions – the B.C. Vintage Truck Museum and the launch of passenger operations on the restored heritage Interurban out of  Cloverdale Station, a replica of the original 1910 B.C. Electric Railway hub.

It’s operated by volunteers from the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society, who have just wrapped up a successful inaugural season, drawing visitors from across the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, the B.C. interior and beyond.

Success stories are to be found in venues of smaller scope, too: Wevers points to another new business, Create-it Emporium, an arts and crafts studio specializing in paint-your-own pottery and more. The studio has rapidly become a favourite birthday party venue with the under 12 set – and the cocktail crowd. It celebrates its one-year anniversary on Nov. 1.

“Here is somebody who came into the area not knowing how they would do, and she’s very happy about moving into the area.”

Small businesses, he says, aren’t for the faint-of-heart. But they are the lifeblood of a community.

“You’re taking a chance, you’re sticking your neck out,” he says.

When construction finally begins on Cloverdale West Village, the long-promised residential and commercial redevelopment project of the old Cloverdale Mall site, another piece of the puzzle in revitalizing downtown Cloverdale will fall into place.

“I’m really, really looking forward to 2014,” says Wevers. “I think it’s going to be a good year in the area.”

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