A combination of factors has caused at least two more businesses to leave White Rock’s Marine Drive – one temporarily and one permanently.
The Oceanside Public House, which operates out of the historic Ocean Beach Hotel, announced that it will be closed until March and Hempyz Gifts and Novelties, located a few doors down, has permanently closed.
Hempyz adds its name to a long list of businesses that have left Marine Drive over the past few years. Late Thursday afternoon, Peace Arch News counted more than a dozen businesses that were closed either temporarily or permanently along the strip.
“There’s been kind of a downturn along Marine Drive over the last several years. I think most businesses have experienced that,” Hempyz owner Randy Caine told Peace Arch News Thursday. “We’ve seen that general eroding of the retail business along there.”
“It became a practical business decision. On the one side, (Hempyz) wasn’t bringing in that much money anymore and on the other, I wouldn’t be able to further develop the business to try and take advantage of the changes in my industry,” Caine said.
Caine said that he also noticed a change in demographics since opening the store more than six years ago.
“When I arrived… it was the type of community that was affordable to most people. That was our clientele,” he said.
“That’s evolved now. The individuals that live in the community are much more moneyed. Their expectations of businesses along Marine are going to be much more boutique-like.”
White Rock council passed bylaws in August that will permit operation of a single cannabis retail store on a trial basis in the town centre on a temporary use permit.
Caine said that he wouldn’t mind relocating a store to White Rock to open a cannabis dispensary, but that there aren’t many places available due to the number of construction projects taking place.
“Right now, and I’m sure you’re keenly aware, a lot of businesses are having a problem in the uptown area,” Caine said.
Caine said he would like to approach the newly-elected council to get a feel for their position on a cannabis retail store.
“The previous council, I’m not going to say (were) hostile, but they were not supportive for, let’s say, upcoming legislation or marijuana in general, whether it be medical or non-medical. That puts up a barrier when I go talk to a property manager.”
Another “eroding factor,” which was also cited by Oceanside Public House regional manager Danielle Ashworth, was the delayed construction of the city’s Memorial Park upgrade project, located across the street from both businesses.
A groundbreaking ceremony for Memorial Park was planned for Sept. 14, 2017, but was delayed for months after Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell came to the ceremony with a cease-and-desist letter in hand, and said that the site may be an ancient burial ground.
The city posted to its website Thursday saying that Memorial Park is now “in the final stages of construction.”
Ashworth wrote on Facebook Wednesday that Oceanside Public House is temporarily closing due to a number of factors, including construction on the waterfront, parking, the overall state of the beach and “the lack of help the businesses have received from the city.”
Pay parking has been a reoccurring point of contention for business owners who have left Marine Drive, as has the cost of rent, seasonality, the state of the industry and a downturn in tourism.
Like Caine, Ashworth has also noticed a change in the city’s demographics.
“Even our nightlife business has changed, as less people are drawn to the beach to visit, especially young people who want to party,” Ashworth wrote on Facebook.
White Rock Business Improvement Association executive director Alex Nixon said that although he sees the waterfront as a “thriving area … I certainly understand owning a small business is a major challenge.”
Nixon said housing affordability of Metro Vancouver impacts small businesses in three ways, and the challenge is not restricted to White Rock.
“Their own lease is high. Their staff… home costs are high, and their customers have less disposable incomes because they’re spending it on housing,” Nixon said.
“The region as a whole is facing some affordability challenges.”