Tracy Holmes photo                                After 22 years, Black Bond Books owner Cathy Jesson is closing her 24 Avenue store next month, citing access, parking and declining sales.

Tracy Holmes photo After 22 years, Black Bond Books owner Cathy Jesson is closing her 24 Avenue store next month, citing access, parking and declining sales.

Changing face of small business on Peninsula

Two South Surrey outlets alter presence

The face of business on the Semiahmoo Peninsula is changing, with the latest moves by two longtime local merchants: Black Bond Books and Potters.

Last week, Potters officials closed the doors on its Ocean Park garden centre, effectively leaving the neighbourhood – the other South Surrey site, at 152 Street and 32 Avenue, was sold about a year ago.

Now, its next-closest locations for residents here are on 48 Avenue at 192 Street, or in Newton, at 125 Street and 72 Avenue.

And owner Ed Holden says market conditions mean they won’t be returning to the south end anytime soon.

“It’s become too valuable now,” Holden told Peace Arch News last Wednesday.

For Black Bond Books, the change finalizes next month, when the doors will close on its 24 Avenue location.

That day – Oct. 20 – will mark the first time in 22 years that the South Surrey-based chain will not have a presence on 24 Avenue.

Owner Cathy Jesson said the decision to consolidate the shop – located at 15562 24 Ave., it is currently one of nine in the family-owned chain – with her Semiahmoo Shopping Centre location was “a very emotional one.”

“That’s where my office was, and we operated our back-of-house operation out of the back of the store,” she explained.

“It was like going back to my roots of book-selling by being part of 24th.”

Reasons behind the two merchants’ decisions differ.

For Holden, not renewing the 128 Street site’s lease was a matter of business not doing as well there as expected.

For Jesson, the move is about access, parking and declining sales.

“Twenty-fourth (avenue) has become… so difficult,” she said.

“It’s gridlock. That corridor has not been prepared for what’s been built along it.

“With all the townhouses and the retail over the hump, it’s not going to get better.”

Traffic along the thoroughfare has increased steadily in recent years, as residential and commercial development spreads eastward – growth that has no obvious end in sight.

Jesson said she hears more and more that people are avoiding 24 Avenue due to the resulting congestion.

“For those of us that have our businesses along there, that’s pretty rough,” she said.

A median installed along the thoroughfare in 2007 has often been criticized as hindering access for that traffic to businesses on both sides of the street. Four years ago, officials with Sources White Rock South Surrey food bank cited the concrete barrier as among factors behind a decision to relocate that facility to 156 Street.

Jesson said she has been unable to find a new home for her store, but has asked for bigger space in the uptown shopping centre.

“The market is so tight in South Surrey right now for leasing. With all the development and small businesses looking for places to go…

“We’re still looking,” she said. “If we can’t make some sort of arrangement with Semiahmoo to get bigger, the small store there – it limits what we’d like to do.”

Customers can expect some changes to the shopping centre store, regardless, she said, citing plans to incorporate some of the “flavour” that has been successful at the chain’s Main Street store in Vancouver.

Holden said he is looking at new locations, and expects a decision on those next spring. He wouldn’t disclose potential sites, but acknowledged the areas “will be more metropolitan than rural.”

He said both of his former South Surrey sites are slated for development.

The first – which sold for a figure that Holden would only say included “a lot of zeros” – is slated for a four-storey office building with parking for “a couple hundred cars.”

“It’s all been approved,” he said.

He expects the Ocean Park lot will be used for townhouses.