Opinion

The price of doing business in Ridge

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The owner of a popular Maple Ridge restaurant lived through a cultural revolution in Iran, and robbery at gunpoint here, but couldn’t survive fierce competition, and the high costs of doing business in our town.

Chapter one of Parvaneh Razi’s story begins in 1984 after religious leader Ayatollah Khomeni deposed the Shaw and targeted people with pro-west sentiments. Razi, a trained social worker, and Christian business woman, saw the bloodshed up close. She packed up her family and re-established in Germany.

“I owned a private kindergarten and had employees, but I left Iran within three days,” she recalls.

The robbery occurred years later. Razi had moved again, this time to Canada. She  opened More Crumbs at Meadow Ridge Shopping Centre, at 207th Street and Lougheed Highway. One night, a hooded gunman handed her a note demanding money.

“You don’t know what you do when that happens,” says Razi. “I have accent. I said, ‘You give note to my worker because I don’t read English. It confused him. He ran away.”

On June 6, after an eight-year struggle to keep More Crumbs afloat, Razi had to admit defeat. Facing mounting dept, she closed the doors of the bakery-cafe she loved, and said good-bye to people she regularly greeted with a warm smile.

“I love you guys,” she told customers accustomed to her home-cooked meals “made from scratch,” and musicians grateful for the stage she gave them.

“I love this place,” Razi told them.  “I am loyal to my community, but I just couldn’t catch the prices,”

Promoting healthy eating and locally produced foods was Razi’s mission. Soups and baked goods made from unbleached flour were trans-fat free. Razi made the salad dressings and mayonnaise.

“I wanted people to think about what they’re eating,” she says. “Fast food is killing them. I cook meals here like I’m cooking at home for my family.”

The approach filled the café every lunch hour, but that didn’t pay the bills.

“Wages go up, my rent is $3,000 a month. I have to make 300 sandwiches just to pay that.”

More Crumbs could have endured if competition for the lunch trade wasn’t so fierce.

“There’s 15 cafes within two koliometres of me, five in this mall,” Razi says.

She blames Maple Ridge council.

“They never protected small businesses like this place,” she says as she leafs through a file folder containing 24 real estate listings.

“Mine makes 25.”

The businesses in Razi’s folder are coffee shops, pizza places, little businesses fighting for the same clientele. There’s six sushi houses alone.

In Maple Ridge there seems to be another one every week; few last.

You won’t find ‘for sale’ signs in many of their windows.

“That would be bad for business, explained realtor, Ken Hemminger. “People would say, ‘they’re not doing well’ or ‘the food’s bad.’”

I wonder why the district welcomes more little food establishments knowing hopeful restaurateurs face a population base too thin to keep them all alive.

“Because it creates a vision that there is prosperity in Maple Ridge,” suggests Hemminger. “But it’s unfair to say what a wonderful place this is to do business. The truth is these people have to work seven days a week just to make ends meet.”

Even then, the rising cost of rent, supplies, and taxes, make survival a long shot.

In Germany, Razi says, landlords lowered the rent, governments reduced taxes, all to assist small businesses. Not here.

Hemminger says sober facts should be shared with anyone hoping to open shop in Maple Ridge, especially one with a history of failure, “but that needs the direction of council.”

He adds, “the district should also be giving small businesses tax incentives. They give building incentives to developers, don’t they?”

Razi wonders if council cares about the difficulties people like her face, the anguish in seeing your business die.

She wrote the District asking for help and guidance, but didn’t get an answer.

“I’m mad,” she says. “Too many fast food restaurants.”

In Fort Langley, it’s easier to have a place like mine. There are no franchises. Maple Ridge has to have a plan, someone to advise us.”

Despite everything, Razi remains optimistic about her future.

“I’m happy,” she said on her last Saturday at More Crumbs, “because I have a lot of friends here. I know we will meet again.”

Still smiling, she thanked her staff on her last Saturday. “But now, we are all jobless.”

 

Until Razi finds work, she’ll spend more time at her church, and volunteer at the Salvation Army. “I’d like to work with older people,” she says.

Local musician Ivan Beaudreau was a regular performer at More Crumbs. “Businesses are hurting,” he says. “More Crumbs was a place where people would actually listen.”

The camera on Ivan’s tablet streams video to Robert Campbell, another of Razi’s musical friends, who now lives in Halifax.

“It’s very sad,” comments Campbell via Skype.

Regular customer, Dwain Choma will miss Razi, too.

“She’s a good woman,” he says. “There’s no place anywhere around here that serves food like hers. I tried them all.”

 

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

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