It’s mid-morning Monday in the once-bustling White Rock neighbourhood of Five Corners, and the streets are quiet.
Laura Cornale walks along a quiet sidewalk where blue construction fence separates her and what’s left of Laura’s Coffee Corner – the popular coffee shop she owned for six years.
Cornale isn’t sure where to look.
“I try not to come this way anymore,” she told Peace Arch News. “It’s just too much.”
Three months after a massive fire ripped through Ocean Ridge – a building that housed nearly 100 residents and several street-front shops – some businesses are reappearing on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
The May 15 fire broke out around 5 a.m. at a construction site immediately south of Ocean Ridge, extensively damaging the building. Investigators determined arson as the cause and have yet to announce charges.
Since then, Ocean Ridge has been surrounded by caution tape, and more recently, construction fencing. Crews have completely removed the top floor of the four-storey building, and have gutted the other floors as part of the rebuilding. It’s expected to be at least two years before the project is finished.
Cornale, 42, is still angry an arsonist managed to shutter her coffee shop – now a temporary lunchroom for construction workers – but she’s moving on. In November she’ll re-open in a space across the street currently occupied by J&H Food Market. The market’s longtime operator, the Soo family, plans to retire this fall and offered Cornale the location.
“I’m lucky to have found a space now,” she said. “It’s in the same area – I love this area – and I’m really thankful for (the Soo family) to do that for me.”
Cornale decided to look elsewhere after a June meeting with Oceanridge owners and the restoration team made it clear reconstruction was a long road. She said the meeting allowed her to say goodbye.
“I’m not coming back here. I can’t come back here. I have to move on. Two years is too long. I’ll lose all my customers.”
Deanna Whissell, owner of Vanilla Clothing, found a new location for her boutique inside another store, House Warmings in Elgin Corners at 14016 32 Ave.
“We didn’t waste a lot of time,” she said. “You can’t do that in business – they forget about you.”
In the first week following the fire, three business owners who participate in Vanilla Clothing’s shopping tours offered her space.
“I was pretty blown away by that generosity,” she said. “We ended up at House Warmings – the best location and space offering for what we needed at the time.”
Now Vanilla Clothing has 300 square feet inside the home decor store.
“For now, we are just so happy to be back in business.”
In May, both Whissell and Cornale were quick to come to the aid of Ocean Ridge residents who could do little but watch their homes burn. Whissell played a key role in organizing a fire relief centre at First United Church, where individuals and businesses donated a host of items to meet residents’ immediate needs. Cornale, meanwhile, spearheaded an online fundraising campaign for residents, raising $20,000.
Said Whissell: “It was the least we could do for our customers and our friends.”
Other Ocean Ridge business owners are also getting back on their feet. Moe Toufic lost his Pacific Barber Shop in the fire, but he’s continuing his craft across the street at Sin 7 Salon, which opened one of its salon chairs to the barber. His three-days-per-week schedule will increase to four next month.
The fire also forced the closure of Madison Five Fashions across the street due to smoke damage. But signs plastered on its windows assure customers it’s re-opening soon.
Other businesses are still searching for space, including Puretone Hearing Clinic, which had opened at Ocean Ridge just two weeks before the fire.
Another, Releaf Compassion Centers, already had a Langley location before the fire, and owner Tara Caine said she’s awaiting the outcome of upcoming federal rulings on marijuana dispensaries before considering a new location on the Peninsula.
In the meantime, Cornale is preparing for a relaunch, and hopes the Five Corners neighbourhood will return to its vibrant self soon.
Said Cornale: “It’ll come back. It has to come back.”