Vancouver Sun

Neigh­bour­hood cor­ner store faces re­de­vel­op­ment threat

- DENISE RYAN Retail · Canada News · Industries · British Columbia · Kitsilano · Vancouver

Ten years ago, Jian Li Li and his wife, Yan Li, shelled out $50,000 to buy a small business, a cor­ner store at Yew and 6th in Kit­si­lano.

With a small liv­ing space be­hind the store, it seemed per­fect: The store, known as He­len's, had been a com­mu­nity an­chor since 1912. The Lis could live and work on site, and raise their three kids in the closeknit neigh­bour­hood.

But in Jan­uary, Li's land­lord no­ti­fied him their lease would not be re­newed at the end of 2020, putting an abrupt end to the business and the dream.

The land­lord had de­cided to re­de­velop the site into du­plexes.

Li, who also worked as an au­to­body re­pair­man, was still grap­pling with what to do about the sit­u­a­tion when COVID-19 hit and he was tem­po­rar­ily laid off from his job at Crafts­man Col­li­sion.

“I'm los­ing my in­vest­ment,” said Li. “I don't know what we are go­ing to do.”

Li's fam­ily and renters in units above the store will also be los­ing their homes. Li feels par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble be­cause his fam­ily's res­i­den­tial unit, be­hind the store, is not of­fi­cially listed on his ten­ancy agree­ment.

As cus­tomers trek in and out of the store, some in bed­room slip­pers, oth­ers just to check up on the Lis, it is ap­par­ent that the cor­ner store that has stood since 1912 is more than just a place to buy milk or lot­tery tick­ets — it is a neigh­bour­hood hub and a place of con­nec­tion.

Her­itage ex­pert John Atkin said the loss of an­other cor­ner store is a blow.

“We con­tinue to lose the type of Van­cou­ver that ev­ery­one talks about want­ing to have — walk­a­ble neigh­bour­hoods, lo­cal com­mu­nity, sus­tain­able re­tail.”

The pan­demic has only un­der­scored the need for such spa­ces, said Atkin. “It's a com­mu­nity space, you step into a gro­cery store like this, you know the owner, you don't have to drive any­where: It's nec­es­sary re­tail.”

In July, Van­cou­ver Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung asked city coun­cil to sup­port lo­cal con­ve­nience stores, cit­ing food se­cu­rity for se­niors, health con­cerns re­lated to trav­el­ling to larger stores dur­ing the pan­demic, ac­cess to ne­ces­si­ties, and walk­a­ble, sus­tain­able neigh­bour­hoods. Her mo­tion passed.

Atkin said the Yew Street site is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing be­cause it re­tains al­most all of its orig­i­nal ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails, and was built in 1912, a boom pe­riod of de­vel­op­ment in the city. A street­car had been run­ning on 4th Av­enue since 1909. What was once “for­est with a bit of rail line go­ing through it,” was fill­ing in with a mix of re­tail and res­i­den­tial build­ings — in other words, it was be­com­ing a neigh­bour­hood.

The build­ing that houses He­len's gro­cery is not on the her­itage reg­istry, some­thing that con­cerns Atkin. “This points out the lack of finesse to our her­itage regis­ter — a build­ing like this should have been cap­tured and it hasn't been.”

Ac­cord­ing to the City of Van­cou­ver's web­site, “any build­ing con­structed be­fore 1940 is con­sid­ered a char­ac­ter build­ing if it has sur­viv­ing authen­tic or pe­riod fea­tures,” and re­quires a “char­ac­ter merit as­sess­ment be­fore re­de­vel­op­ment.”

B.C. As­sess­ment records show the site com­prises sev­eral dif­fer

ent lots, in­clud­ing 2205 6th Ave. West, and 2137, 2139 and 2143 Yew Street. How­ever, the re­de­vel­op­ment no­tice and ap­pli­ca­tion uses the ad­dresses 2137 Yew Street and 2205 West 6th — both ad­di­tions built in the 1970s — and fails to men­tion the in­clu­sion of the orig­i­nal build­ing at 2143 Yew. A land ti­tle search for 2143 Yew shows no pend­ing ap­pli­ca­tions, rais­ing con­cerns that the de­mo­li­tion of the orig­i­nal build­ing, to which the ad­di­tions are at­tached, will slip through the cracks.

“I would hope that some­one at city hall would hit pause on this one,” said Atkin. “And the rental units above the store should be flagged — you do have to re­place rental units.”

Her­itage Van­cou­ver has also writ­ten a let­ter to the city ex­press­ing con­cerns about the pro­posed re­de­vel­op­ment and the loss of He­len's gro­cery: “Its loss will fur­ther erode Kit­si­lano's ever-in­creas­ing loss of both its built and so­cial char­ac­ter.”

The pro­posed re­place­ment also doesn't ad­dress the loss of the com­mer­cial space still in use serv­ing the neigh­bour­hood as a cor­ner store.

“We are los­ing some­thing quite im­por­tant here,” said the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Van­cou­ver Her­itage So­ci­ety, Bill Yuen.

The City of Van­cou­ver sent Post­media a state­ment that said staff are re­view­ing the pro­posal and will con­sider res­i­dents' com­ments.

The city stated that the Res­i­den­tial Ten­ancy Act gov­erns both res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial con­tracts be­tween ten­ants and land­lords.

“Legally, an evic­tion no­tice can only be served to ten­ants once all per­mits are in place. Ad­di­tion­ally, any evic­tions must also meet the City's ten­ant re­lo­ca­tion and pro­tec­tion pol­icy which seeks to mit­i­gate the im­pact of dis­place­ment on ten­ants.”

Li said his land­lord has al­ways been “very good to us,” but is re­fus­ing to re­new their lease even if the re­de­vel­op­ment doesn't go ahead im­me­di­ately. The build­ing owner, Jane Wong, de­clined to com­ment.

 ?? ARLEN REDEKOP ?? Store owner Jian Li Li stands in­side He­len's, his cor­ner store in Kit­si­lano which is un­der threat of clo­sure af­ter more than 100 years.
ARLEN REDEKOP Store owner Jian Li Li stands in­side He­len's, his cor­ner store in Kit­si­lano which is un­der threat of clo­sure af­ter more than 100 years.
 ??  ?? John Atkin
John Atkin

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