17th Avenue needs space for small retailers, councillor says

With space along Fourth Street and 17th Avenue southwest commanding some of the highest rent in the country, the new councillor for the area says it’s important to make sure smaller retailers don’t get squeezed out.

Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley says it's important to provide room for independent businesses in high-rent district

Mealan Mezzarobba is closing down her women's boutique on Fourth Street after five years of trying to make a go of it on one of Canada's highest-rent streets. (CBC)

With space along Fourth Street and 17th Avenue southwest commanding some of the highest rent in the country, the new councillor for the area says it’s important to make sure smaller retailers don’t get squeezed out.

Coun. Evan Woolley said while city hall should not try to dictate rental rates, it should encourage developers to provide a supply of small spaces for independent businesses.

“I think over a lot of years … we didn't mandate that buildings have to have certain size limits in them. And I know there is a policy now that limits the size of the retail space in the area,” he said.

According to Colliers International, 17th Avenue and Fourth Street are the fifth and sixth most expensive streets in Canada to rent space.

For small retail shop owner Mealan Mezzarobba, the ever-rising rent recently became too much.

She is closing Mealan, the women’s clothing boutique on Fourth Street she has operated for five years.

“It wasn't my decision to close. I almost had to because of the rent raise. So that was a little bit sad. This was what I wanted to do. This was my dream. I designed the entire store,” she said.

Woolley said businesses can handle high rent if they're drawing customers. And part of that equation is encouraging people to live downtown so that they will shop in the area, he said.

There also has to be a balance between the number of retail stores and bars or restaurants in the area, Woolley said.

"I think we need to ensure that there's a diversity of choice and I think it's changing for the better. I think the city just needs to support policies that will allow businesses to thrive on the avenue,” he said.

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