Drug addiction and vagrancy have been cited as reasons for another business closing up shop in the Maple Ridge downtown core.
Vanessa Welti will be closing her tattoo and piercing studio, located along Lougheed Highway by 223 Street, for good on March 20.
She has been at the location for seven years.
Welti, a piercer and owner of Wicked Tattoo and Piercing Inc., said she has watched the situation in the downtown core deteriorate every year.
“It has gotten so incredibly bad,” said the business owner.
A sign on their door asks patrons to keep the door locked to limit the amount of people in the studio because of COVID restrictions. But, Welti said, that’s not the truth.
“The truth is that we keep our door, and our back door, and our gate locked because we’ve had so many issues,” she said.
People will walk in the shop and flail around, yell profanities and throw things.
She said the abuse is constant.
“We’ve been broken into, we’ve had our staff harassed, we’ve had needles, we’ve had people hiding out at our front doors thinking people are trying to find them, people smoking drugs at our front door.
“We’ve had clients say, ‘We love you guys but we won’t come into the shop because we don’t feel safe going downtown’,” Welti said.
A couple of weeks ago staff came into work only to discover feces sprayed all over the front door. Welti had to call a hazardous materials company to clean it up.
“We’re done. We’re over it,” she said.
City councillor Chelsa Meadus responded to Welti’s online closure announcement by saying things are finally starting to change downtown, and apologizing to Welti that it wasn’t in time for her business.
“With the RCMP fully engaging in councils’ Community Safety Plan under acting OIC Meehat-we’re starting to see our plan finally executed,” wrote Meadus online.
She blamed “provincial pressures supporting and enabling addiction” that she said needs to be treated as, “the health crisis it is, so we can reduce the impacts on citizens and businesses like yours,” she wrote.
“Quite frankly citizens don’t want to step over human feces to have to come to your business, nor should they. They don’t want to have to step over a body and they don’t want to be confronted with the big mess that has been a result of failed policy,” added Meadus.
Wicked Tattoo and Piercing Inc. is located just east of Little Cricket Gift Gallery whose owner, Michelle Taylor, closed their storefront in January, opting instead for a pop-up shop at The ACT Arts Centre, and an online gallery.
Taylor also blamed the homeless population and drug users, who she said, are making customers uncomfortable and the neighbourhood unwelcoming to visitors.
The former store owner also laid blame on the non-profit Food for the Soul Project Society, located right next to her former store. The centre helps those struggling with mental health and addictions, and connects them to the supports they need. They also have a food and clothing program.
Ineke Boekhorst with the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association said the city’s Community Safety Officers are trying really hard to keep the area as clean and safe as possible.
And, she said, Food for Soul is also doing its best, but noted the difficulties it is facing because of COVID restrictions, which limits the amount of people they can help inside.
“A lot of people are lingering outside and because of that, hanging around the businesses directly surrounding Food for Soul.
“If I had a store there and my customers have to step over people, and it’s just a mess and people are screaming, it would not be conducive to good business,” said Boekhorst sympathetically, adding many of the circumstances are COVID-related.
Food for the Soul was at its current location before the COVID pandemic began and they dealt with their clients inside, and there were very little issues, said Boekhorst.
“[But now] it has all spilled out onto the sidewalks,” she said.
Boekhorst wants to assure other businesses they are working with security, withCSOs, and with the RCMP to deal with the issues at hand.
Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Bob D’Eith says his heart goes out to any businesses that have had to close their doors or have experienced “exacerbated difficulties” over the past year.
“The pandemic has been incredibly hard on small business owners, as well as the most vulnerable in our community,” said D’Eith in an emailed statement.
“There is a lot of work to do as we move into a more normal life and attempt to recover from COVID-19,” he said adding that the NDP government has a number of programs in place to help small- and medium-sized businesses and anyone needing more information can contact his office.
Welti will be moving her business to a private studio, so they won’t have a storefront anymore, and people won’t be just walking through the door.
Her contact information, she noted, will remain the same.
She is relieved she will no longer have to deal with issues like people doing drugs at the front door of her place of work, or stealing items related to her company.
Since March 2020, at least 15 businesses have closed their doors downtown. Most of these businesses closed because of the pandemic, said Boekhorst. On the other hand, she said, there are very few storefronts empty, meaning businesses are being replaced.
“Things are coming back.”
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