Maple Ridge needs to improve its retail mix in the downtown and reduce or hold the line on the number of sushi restaurants, dollar stores and payday loan companies, says a 224th Street businessman.
“The type of businesses you have in your local trading area really portrays what kind of town it is,” says Deddy Geese, who runs Hagens Travel and Cruises.
Maple Ridge seems to lack a mix of service and retail stores to create a positive shopping experience, he added.
Geese had heard the former HSBC bank across from his store on 224th Street was to become another dollar store. However, a dental office is now to open in a third of the former bank next year, while a tenant is still being sought for the remainder, said leasing agent Adrian Keenan.
“Definitely not a dollar store, no,” said Keenan. “Between dollar stores and sushi restaurants, I don’t know if we have any more room for them.”
For Geese, the number of sushi restaurants in the downtown, now 15, hurts the entire restaurant sector.
“Far too many. That really takes a lot of the wind out of the other restaurants.”
He points to Comox on Vancouver Island, where the chamber of commerce, tourism office, downtown businesses association and municipality are proactive in creating the type of business mix they want.
Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association executive director Ineke Boekhorst said members have been asking her why the number of dollar stores and pay-day loan companies is increasing.
The association in turn has asked Maple Ridge bylaws to find a way to limit the numbers.
“I totally agree and most of the businesses do as well. There’s a movement to stop that somehow.”
She says currently there are five payday loan shops downtown and six or seven dollar stores.
“The cash stores seem to have drastically increased since the casino opened up.”
However, Chuck Keeling, with Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which runs Chances, said the issue hasn’t developed in other cities where there’s a gaming centre or casino.
“It’s not been our experience in any of our other communities. If there has a been an increase, we scratch our heads a bit wondering what would have been the direct factors leading to their opening.”
The new Chances Maple Ridge, which opened last October, has 175 slot machines. However, before that, since taking over the Haney Bingoplex in 2010, Chances has had 100 slot machines at its old location on 224th Street.
“We think we’ve been a pretty good community partner and will continue to be,” Keeling said.
One of the candidates for Maple Ridge council in the Nov. 15 election raised the same issue a month ago.
Tyler Shymkiw proposed a moratorium be put on the opening of any more operations that offer short-term advances on pay cheques, and charge steep interest rates for the privilege of doing so.
“These pay day loan companies tend to congregate in the lower income neighbourhoods. We’ve tried to create affordable housing in Maple Ridge. I think that creates a target for them,” Shymkiw said in August.
Still, Keenan said “224th Street is very popular” for businesses – its vibrant with good pedestrian traffic, which is good for business.
The leasing agent added that building prices in Maple Ridge haven’t yet reached the point to encourage redevelopment. “There’s still too much value in the old stores there to just tear them down.”