Diane Ladouceur, owner of Critters & Friends, grooms one of her four-legged customers Monday, days after learning her business has just six months left at its Hillcrest Mall location. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Borrowed time for White Rock’s Hillcrest Mall

Merchants given six months notice to vacate

Ten years after it was approved, Bosa Properties is moving ahead with the second phase of its Miramar Village development – two towers, 14- and 17-storeys high, to be built on White Rock’s Hillcrest Mall property.

Tenants of the mall, located at 15177 Thrift Ave., received notice Friday that they had six months – until Nov. 30 – to vacate.

And while the news “wasn’t completely out of the blue” – tenants were told last December that demolition work could begin in 18 months – it did arrive much sooner than some expected.

“It was shocking how fast it happened,” Diane Ladouceur, owner of the family-run Critters & Friends, said Monday. “Everybody here speculated we’d be here at least until (next) spring.”

Word of the eviction notice spread quickly on social media, with those weighing in expressing everything from outrage to acceptance to pleasure.

(Bosa Properties’ officials did not respond to requests for comment by Peace Arch News press time Tuesday morning.)

In a May 26 Facebook post that was emailed to PAN, Mic McTavish said the news “has been absolutely devastating.”

“This area is a small strip mall that benefits families and elderly citizens within the community, this is happening just so (Bosa) can continue to build more half empty highrises that congest and ruin what White Rock and South Surrey once was,” McTavish writes. “I absolutely understand the need for housing and infrastructure within our communities, but there comes a point of no return.”

Joan Rourke writes that she is “so very sad to see how our town is heading. Soon there won’t be any affordable places here, too.”

Jonathan Kuzma notes the plans were laid 10 years ago, and “although I don’t want to see these businesses go, the time to protest has passed.”

Blair Woroniecke predicts it will “benefit White Rock in a big way. Just because it’s not like it was 20 years ago doesn’t mean it should stay the same. Glad to see White Rock growing finally!”

PAN reported in January that the third and fourth towers of Bosa’s Miramar Village development were back on the horizon for the town centre.

All four of the highrises were approved by the city in 2007. The first two – standing 21 and 17 storeys high – were completed in 2010.

In 2011, residents – many of them from the first two towers – spoke out against amendments sought for the second phase that would increase the number of residential units, increase parking spaces, reduce the space between two of the towers and impact views in ways not anticipated when owners first bought into the project.

In 2013, Bosa’s vice-president of sales and marketing told PAN that the second phase was “not viable at the moment,” citing retail and residential market conditions.

It was around that time that Lily Li opened her Stariver Health business in the mall. Friday’s notice was unexpected, she said.

“Everybody feels sad,” Li told PAN. “Very stressful right now. Our business right here is good.”

Li said options to relocate are limited, and high-priced.

McTavish, 24, told PAN Tuesday that she grew up in White Rock and worked at Critters for about three years. She moved to Smithers last year, in part to get away from development like that happening in White Rock.

She said she was surprised by the attention her Facebook post has received, but hopes it brings awareness to the local impact, which she says is pushing out those who call it home.

Ladouceur, who took over Critters seven years ago, said the news was all the more distressing given verbal assurances she received just over a year ago when she was made to move to another unit in order to make way for the expansion of WorldServe Thrift. At that time, she said, she was told any movement on Phase 2 was at least five years away.

While there was financial help for the move from both Bosa and WorldServe, she said, it still cost her “pretty much my whole life savings” to renovate – funds she says she would not have invested had she known her time in the space would be so short.

“We knew it was coming. For them to move us and let WorldServe expand, that’s the part that’s (upsetting),” she said.

Oxana Petrakova, owner of Oxana’s Cafe and Burrito Bar, said that she and husband Mark Kushnir opened their business less than a year ago, with the knowledge that a second phase of Miramar would be coming eventually.

“We knew that we signed a lease with a six-month demolition clause,” she said. “We asked the Bosa company when do you think it will be coming, and they said ‘we don’t know.’”

“We hoped we could have at least three years, maybe,” she said, adding that while they have built a loyal clientele who say they will follow the business wherever it moves, the six months notice is still stressful.

“It’s sad for us,” she said. “We didn’t get a return on the money we invested, and now we have to go find a location that will be more expensive for sure.”

Petrakova said another location they looked at recently also had a six-month demolition clause in the lease, but they won’t give up looking.

“We love the people and we love the community. We’re optimistic for the future because this place came up suddenly when we were looking to open a cafe – we hope that luck will follow us.”

Officials with Buy-Low Foods, which has called the mall home since 1985, said they were not surprised by the notice.

“We have known that this would be a possibility at some point for some time,” president Dan Bregg told PAN by email.

Bregg said he did not know what the impact to employees would be, “other than that there will no longer be an employment opportunity at the Hillcrest Mall location once the store closes.”

“We will be exploring other options with the franchise owners and their people, but cannot say what those options might be at this point. They are a great group of people and we know that with their knowledge, experience, commitment to customer service and their ability to build relationships in the community they would be a great addition to any team.”

There are no immediate plans to relocate Buy-Low Foods in the area, Bregg said.

Ladouceur said she hopes to find new space nearby, noting the majority of her clients are elderly and walk to her store.

“If I was to move far, I would lose a lot of my clientele.”

She added that having to move right before Christmas is not ideal.

“Christmas is our busiest time. Hopefully, I find a place before that.”

Bosa’s Phase 2 plans include 248 residential units, space for a grocery store and other ground-floor commercial units, as well as a public plaza area.

The company began offering previews in mid-May to those who had registered an interest in the development.

– with files from Alex Browne

tholmes@peacearchnews.com

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