Concerns are mounting over the loss of Shoppers Drug Mart from White Rock’s Central Plaza.
Merchants in the strip mall say business is down since the anchor store moved across the street to Semiahmoo Shopping Centre in South Surrey, and city officials worry the situation is only going to worsen with news the site could remain unoccupied until the lease expires in October.
“I’m obviously concerned, and concerned for the businesses in the area,” Mayor Catherine Ferguson said. “Nobody can move in until after October.”
The city learned a year ago of a plan to relocate Shoppers across the street in South Surrey. The store opened in its new location – an 18,500-square-foot free-standing building – last month.
While some impact was anticipated, at least one Central Plaza merchant said the loss of walk-in traffic since Shoppers left has been “devastating.”
“If you come and you look at our parking lot, you’ll see how devastating it is,” said Shelly O’Brien, owner of Pelican Rouge Coffee Co. “It’s very hard.”
Located in Central Plaza for the past 11 years, O’Brien said she has had to cut staffing as a result of the reduced business and has adjusted her menu. She is considering reducing business hours if things don’t pick up.
If the former Shoppers site remains empty through October, harsher decisions may be a necessity, she said.
“I don’t know if I’ll still be here if it stays empty.”
Mitchell Evanish, whose family company Newmark Projects owns the Shoppers site, said efforts are ongoing to find an appropriate new tenant.
Evanish declined to discuss specifics of Shoppers’ lease with Newmark. He confirmed store officials had “been in touch” regarding terminating the lease earlier, “but it didn’t make any sense.”
Having the site sit empty is not what Newmark wants either, he added.
“We want the space and want a replacement for Shoppers more dearly than anybody. That’s our main concern, is to find a replacement,” Evanish said. “We’re working on it. I know we’ll come up with something promising.”
Ferguson raised her concerns at council Monday night.
Tuesday, Coun. Grant Meyer told Peace Arch News he knows of at least three other White Rock businesses that are leaving the city in the near future, at least one of them for space in South Surrey’s Grandview Corners.
“It’s obviously disappointing,” Meyer said. “I’m quite concerned about the businesses uptown, and what we can do to revitalize the uptown area.”
Ferguson is hopeful an ongoing retail-needs assessment and creation of a town centre vision will help guide the city in turning the tide.
Part of the retail-needs assessment will include asking businesses that have left why they made that decision, the director of planning told council.
Paul Stanton noted the assessment is off to a slow start. Its first stage, in which consultants are aiming to assess market and assessment trends in the area, has been stymied by challenges obtaining information on the South Surrey area from the B.C. Assessment Authority.
The authority will not release the information without written consent from the City of Surrey, Stanton said, and so consultants are negotiating for a reciprocal sharing agreement between the municipalities.
Staff will report on both projects as they progress, he said.