Pearl Bistro and Oyster Bar, which has been a fixture on White Rock’s Marine Drive since 2004, has joined the growing list of restaurants that have permanently closed on the waterfront.
It brings the number of restaurants that have left the 1½-kilometre-long strip in the last four years to at least a dozen.
Monday, Pearl owner Nicholas Popoff confirmed the recent closure but did not want to comment further.
Coun. Grant Meyer, a member of the city’s economic investment committee, said it’s sad to see any business close down.
“It’s very unfortunate, obviously quite a few restaurants have closed down recently and I’ve heard that some landlords have increased their rent or lease payments quite drastically. That’s unfortunate, that’s out of the city’s hands if landlords choose to increase their rent far more than inflation, or something along those lines, that’s too bad,” Meyer said Tuesday.
Meyer said a shift in the economy may be playing a role in the failing of Marine Drive restaurants.
“The cost of living is so darn expensive in Metro Vancouver these days. You’ve seen the house prices, you’ve seen people saying their rent has gone up. I know a lot of my friends and family, they just don’t eat out as much as they used to.”
Last October, Popoff told Peace Arch News that owning a business on Marine Drive in 2016 was nothing like it was 10 years earlier.
He cited several concerns, including parking, cost of lease, seasonality and city council’s decision to force businesses to outsource garbage collection as of July 1, 2015.
Last month, he emailed PAN a photograph of the near-empty parking lot adjacent to Marine Drive.
“After the last article that was written about all the closures on the beach, not one person from council or the city reached out to us to see how we could fix it,” Popoff wrote in the email, titled ‘Falling on deaf ears.’
“Who do they work for if it is not the people and the businesses of the City of White Rock?”
Earlier this month, prior to closing, Popoff told PAN he had emailed councillors, asking why the city hasn’t responded to “the issue at hand.”
He said he got very few responses, and one questioned him about his commitment to the beach.
“And if it was such a concern, why wasn’t I at any of the council meetings? My response back… was that I was working at our restaurant trying to save money,” he said Jan. 3. “I don’t have time to go to council meetings and I don’t need to go to council meetings to let them know what the issues are. If they cannot figure it out, God help them, I guess.”
In the previous PAN report, Popoff also noted his property taxes “just went up $500 a month. With no warning and no sharing cost from our landlord.”
However, city manager Dan Bottrill took issue with that comment, noting earlier this month that property-tax information for the 14955 Marine Dr. restaurant showed the total taxes went to $22,875 from $22,779.
“I don’t know what the landlord may have told him. I can tell you that property taxes – I think he was quoted saying it went up $500 a month – it’s not accurate,” Bottrill said.
Bottrill said the city has a couple of projects in the works that could create a positive impact on Marine Drive businesses, including the revitalization of Memorial Park and construction for a $9-million, 300-vehicle parkade. The Memorial Park improvements would begin after the September long weekend and construction of the parkade, at the corner of Vidal Street and Victoria Avenue, would likely begin near the end of the year.
He also said the city is working with the White Rock Business Improvement Association to bring back a trolley service for the summer months. The service, which would be free for users, would shuttle people to Marine Drive and operate on weekends beginning on the May long weekend.
Coun. Bill Lawrence told PAN last month that he felt the city “should definitely” be doing more to help the merchants during the winter.
“Marine Drive is dying,” he said.
Tuesday, Lawrence described the restaurants’ struggles as “a sad state of affairs.”
“We have restaurants who have shown viability and have popularity throughout the years and are not able to make a go of it on the beach. I think drastic times call for drastic measures,” he said.
Cliff Annable, executive director of the South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce, described the issue as a “decades-old problem.”
“It’s been an ongoing situation on Marine Drive for many years,” he said. “It’s probably worse now than ever. If you drive down Marine Drive, a number of businesses are closed now.”
However, Annable said he’s “very pleased” with the city’s efforts to support Marine Drive businesses.