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Popular Broadway dollar store faces closure over subway construction

Vancouver council directs staff to seek financial relief for Broadway businesses negatively affected by subway construction
Your Dollar Store with More on Broadway is one of the businesses seeking financial relief for loss of revenue the owner attributes to subway construction.

Vancouver city council has directed staff to seek financial relief for businesses along Broadway affected by “cut-and-cover” subway construction and wants the provincial government to also explore options to help owners keep their doors open.

In a motion led by Coun. Colleen Hardwick, council requested staff to consider relaxation or deferral of business property taxes, provide revitalization tax exemptions and to develop a program similar to the City of Montreal’s financial assistance program for businesses affected by major construction.

“It is heartbreaking to hear some of the stories because these are real businesses and real people that are really suffering through this process and suffering a loss,” said Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung at a June 16 council meeting.

“So while I think in the future that Broadway will be a great street and business should actually go up, we actually need the businesses to still be there and survive. We don't want them to be casualties of the process.”

Your Dollar Store with More

Council passed the motion after hearing from business owners along Broadway, including Mei Gour of Your Dollar Store with More at Broadway and Yukon and Sentheepan Senthivel, director of Green’s Market at Broadway and Maple.

Gour has been the owner and operator of the dollar store for 12 years and told council business has plummeted 40 per cent since construction of the subway began last July. The construction involves digging holes in sections of Broadway and then covering them up again.

“Since the construction started, I have already put all my life savings into the business,” she said. “I do not have any more money to save my business. I went to the bank for a loan, any kind of loan that I can get. I got declined because our sales are dropping.”

She said customers are having trouble accessing the store via a narrow sidewalk and street parking is no longer available. She said she is paying extra for deliveries, with delivery drivers having trouble accessing the store.

“For the past two years, we struggled through COVID, but COVID has not killed my business,” Gour said. “This construction is and will if we do not get help. If we cannot get financial help, I'm facing [having] to close the dollar store very soon.”

Constructions crews work near Broadway and Cambie Street on the subway, which is scheduled to open in 2025. Photo Rob Kruyt

Green's Market

Senthivel, who employs 40 people and has been at his location for 12 years, told council that revenue loss has been $800,000, with a gross profit loss of $300,000 since construction began outside his store.

“We can handle the noise, we can handle the nuisance, we can handle the inconveniences, but not the financial hardship,” he said. “That's a lot to bear on a small business person. Our loss of sales is quite tremendous. I'm losing about 250 customers a day. That’s about 1,400 customers a week.”

Senthivel is in a triple-net lease with his landlord, which means he pays for rent, maintenance and property tax, which are expected to increase. Currently, the property tax bill for Green’s Market is $60,000 per year.

“The property taxes are going to go up,” he said. “So we're going to pay more property taxes while there's a huge hole dug in front of our store, which I think is very unfair.”

He urged council to “join the fight” in calling on the province for financial relief.

Coun. Pete Fry, who has shopped at Green’s Market and Your Dollar Store with More, described the city’s role in seeking financial relief for businesses affected by cut-and-cover construction as “junior partners.”

“We're not driving the train, so to speak,” he said, referring to the provincial government being the lead in the subway project, which is expected to be completed by 2025.  “Having said that, and that it's not entirely our responsibility per se, we do have a responsibility to the residents and businesses of our city.”

Montreal's financial assistance program

In Montreal, that municipality launched a financial assistance program in 2019 aimed at reducing the impact of work sites on businesses located in areas affected by major construction.

Financial assistance can reach a maximum of $40,000 per financial year and is calculated based on the actual losses incurred by merchants, according to details of the program on the City of Montreal’s website.

The B.C. government, meanwhile, said in an email from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure that it does not provide compensation for “temporary disruptions” arising from construction overseen by the provincial government. 

No compensation from province

The ministry noted no compensation was offered or provided to businesses affected by the Canada Line project and said the construction method for the subway is very different than the Canada Line.

“To help minimize disruptions, the new line is being tunnelled underground with temporary bridges called traffic decks installed in the station blocks on Broadway to maintain access to businesses, health services and residences during construction, including pedestrian access for people of all abilities,” the ministry said.

“As a result, there is far less above-ground disruption for businesses than the ‘cut-and-cover’ approach used on the Canada Line.”

The ministry said it has been actively working with businesses since 2019 to help inform traffic and construction management plans and “is committed to working one-on-one with businesses to understand their concerns and collaborate on potential solutions to impacts from construction.”

“We recognize construction on the Broadway Subway Project can present added challenges for businesses and we appreciate everyone’s patience while we work as quickly as we can to deliver this project,” the ministry said.

“By starting to take action early, we’ve ensured that businesses on Broadway are open and accessible during construction, including pedestrian access for people of all abilities.”

Safety fencing

Examples supplied by the ministry of efforts made to assist businesses include:

• working directly with each business on the type of safety fencing at the storefront to accommodate the preference to either block noise and dust, or to provide visibility from the streets and sidewalks.

• relocating commercial loading zones from Broadway to the nearest cross streets, and working with the city to identify locations for new “room-to-load” zones.

• developing and providing street signs that provide directions to businesses and indicate that businesses are open.

• creating parking and access maps for each station area along Broadway, which are distributed to businesses and posted at for download and printing.

• cleaning sidewalks, building facades and windows.

• timing certain activities such as water shut-offs at night specifically to accommodate business operations.

“This project will benefit many British Columbians by expanding fast, frequent and convenient SkyTrain service and advancing the province’s commitment to green transportation infrastructure,” the ministry said.

Gour, meanwhile, said she had to tell an employee on maternity leave and ready to return to work in July that she could no longer afford to give her full-time work.

“She called me recently to ask about her return-to-work schedule,” Gour said. “I didn't know how to answer her. I had no choice but to tell her that her full-time job was not available anymore. I was so sad to disappoint her. But that is my situation right now.”

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