There are jobs, and empty spaces in Maple Ridge

Unemployment rate in Maple Ridge at 7 per cent according to provincial stats

People lined up around the building to apply for jobs at Extra Foods last weekend.

People lined up around the building to apply for jobs at Extra Foods last weekend.

The lineup of people trying for the few positions available when Extra Foods reopens on 224th Street and Dewdney Trunk Road snaked around the parking lot last Saturday.

And according to Thrifty Foods, there are daily job inquiries for its new location, expected to open some time this summer in Haney Place Mall.

But grey best describes the story about the local economy, with both good and bad stories.

Based on Statistics Canada figures, Maple Ridge and the rest of Metro Vancouver isn’t a bad place to be looking for work. Seasonally adjusted figures for the area show a jobless rate of 6.6 per cent in March.

According to WorkBC, it’s a bit higher, at 7.1 per cent.

Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin said the lineups for the jobs in food stores could be people seeking entry-level positions or a result of seasonal change. He remembers decades ago having to do the same thing.

It’s also a mixed story in the retail sector as stores and restaurants open and close.

For instance, the Sea Shanty Fish and Chips restaurant on Dewdney Trunk Road closed a few weeks ago, creating two store vacancies after the earlier closure of Haney Deli and Bistro.

More empty spaces are showing up a few doors down on Dewdney Trunk Road, as well as on 224th Street, the focus of millions of dollars of street rebuilding by the District of Maple Ridge.

In real estate, “For lease” signs are popping up with landlords trying to find tenants, while businesses who want to move to Maple Ridge can’t find the right location.

There is long-term interest in Maple Ridge, says realtor Adrian Keenan.

But it’s difficult to match tenants with proper spaces.

Many Maple Ridge properties just don’t look that great.

“Tenants are looking for high to higher-quality spaces,” he said.

“They like the newer spaces with the amenities,” and they’ll pay higher leasing rates for that, he added.

Property taxes and finding enough room for people to park their vehicles complicates the issue.

“Parking is a huge issue for so many people. They want at least some availability for parking, because the car is still important in this town.”

But the other side is, many businesses are struggling.

“The economy is not as robust as it might be.”

Keenan said businesses can pay between $10 and $20 per square foot for monthly leasing, while property taxes are half as much, ranging from $8 to $10 per square foot, paid for by the tenants.

“It really adds to their costs.”

And if a business wants to upgrade, the dollars add up. Often small stores are told by the municipality to get their redesigns done by an architect, which increases costs, while it can take six months to get a building permit.

The commercial zoning restrictions are also limiting growth, he added.

Dean Haldin, owner of Roast Bistro Cafe on Lougheed Highway and 225th Street, has the same concern. Parking is important for small businesses and if people can’t drive there, they’ll go elsewhere.

“That’s why a lot of them fail because they don’t have enough parking.”

But Roast Bistro, in its fifth year, is doing fine, with annual growth of about 20 per cent.

He expanded his premises about two years ago to about 2,200 sq. feet and had been considering putting up a new building, but learned he would have to build a three-storey structure, which would add to the costs.

The downtown plan requires new buildings to be at least three storeys in an attempt to increase population density. “Then you’ve got no parking to support it all. And then you’re a landlord.”

Haldin says it’s important to stay up to date and keep a fresh look in the restaurant business, but notes that rising gasoline prices are having an effect on people’s spending money.

“It cuts into, I’d say, at least a good dinner out, once a month for people.

“I hear that all the time.”

For the former owner of the Sea Shanty on 223rd Street, however, more profound causes led to his decision to sell.

Kevin Hooseman owned the restaurant for about seven years and sold it to five years ago. That owner recently closed the restaurant.

For Hooseman, though, the numbers just made it impossible.

“When I first bought the restaurant 10 years ago, halibut was $7 a pound. When I sold it, halibut was over $12 a pound.”

Meanwhile, a 100-lb. sack of potatoes doubled in cost to $100.

“So your costs on fish and chips is high. The market just wouldn’t bear it. I couldn’t raise my prices fast enough to keep up.”

Traffic and transportation are issues for him, as well. Many Maple Ridge residents, some recent arrivals from other parts of the Lower Mainland, just leave town when they want to go to dinner or shop.

“The biggest problem in Maple Ridge is people just take the Haney Bypass and skip the whole darn town.”

Neither were people stopping on Dewdney Trunk Road near his restaurant.

“They’re just trying to get home,” he said.

“It’s a killer. You’ve got to really fight to get the customers and the advertising is just too expensive when you’re margin is, like, two per cent.”

Hoosman acknowledged the environment and the declining fish stocks affected his business.

“The quality of the fish is really minimal.”

But he refused to buy fish from offshore, he added.

“You can’t even find ling cod in the Georgia Strait.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has never had an accurate way of counting fish, he added.

Maple Ridge also needs to find a way to keep people in town, he added, pointing to public events in other towns that keep people around on weekends.

“It’s not because there are too many restaurants and not enough people. It’s because people are not sticking around.”

According to WorkBC, compared with the other provinces, B.C. has more small businesses and service industries. The service sector in B.C. accounts for a little more than 75 per cent of economic activity in the province. Nearly 80 per cent of B.C.’s workforce is employed in this sector.

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