Why are retailers moving away from 104th Street?

'For lease' signs are popping up on the street long-touted as a symbol of downtown revitalization.
Store owner Allison MacLean talks to the CBC's Andrea Huncar about why she's leaving 4:42

The Downtown Farmer’s Market moves outdoors on Saturday. And as 104 Street prepares for the crowds, there are questions about the street’s viability for some retailers.

Among the shops selling cheese, olive oil, and wine, there are many “For lease” signs, an unexpected sight on the much-touted epicentre of downtown revitalization.

One of those signs sits in the window of Carbon Environmental Boutique.

After five years, owner Allison MacLean is moving to the High Street area near 124 Street and 102 Avenue.

MacLean thought her store would appeal to the person who shops at a downtown farmer’s market.

But she realized there isn’t enough foot traffic the rest of the week to generate the sales needed to stay in a high-rent area.

“For our business, that market is only on the street 26 days a year,” she said. “We’ve still got the other 339 days of the year to survive here.”

Carbon isn’t the first 104 Street retailer to pull up stakes and move on. While retailers have struggled, restaurants, cafes and food stores seem to be thriving.

"I've seen a lot of stores like Carbon come and go over the five years so stores aren't making it.  But anything to do with food is,” MacLean said.

“So to me, it's almost turning into like a Bourbon Street or a real foodie street."

Jim Taylor of the Downtown Business Association believes that the new downtown arena will bring more people to the area. Compared to national chains, he says independent businesses don’t have the deep pockets needed to hang on.

“You look at it and you say there's gonna be an arena there in a couple of years, boy that would be a great place to be,” he said.  “But if you get in too soon, you're going to have to wait until those crowds are there.”

MacLean isn’t going to wait around. She thinks arena and condo construction will make the situation worse because it will cut down on parking.

Her store sells mattresses, paint and flooring and people need a place to park their vehicles.

She believes the cluster of independent retailers in the High Street area will bring more customers to her door.


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