British Columbia

After 42 years, Surrey shop owner says end of lease is leaving him in the lurch

Shop owner Bill Lo is losing his long-held shop location at the end of May because the landlord, Pacific Cove Properties, declined to continue his lease. He says commercial real estate in Surrey has become so expensive that he can’t find a new location.

Bill Lo, 68, says rising cost of real estate leave him few options for computer shop and post office

Bill Lo, owner of Golden Top Computer is pictured at his store in Surrey's Whalley area. After 42 years in the strip mall at 128 Street and 103 Avenue, he's looking for a new location but says the changing Surrey commercial real estate landscape has made it a big challenge. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Bill Lo knows when it comes to technology, a lot has changed in 32 years.

Unfortunately for the 68-year-old Surrey computer shop owner, a lot has changed when it comes to commercial real estate as well.

Lo, who immigrated to Canada from Taiwan in 1980, has owned a business at the Whalley location since then. Golden Top Computers was started in 1990, a computer shop and post office. For 10 years before that, he had a grocery store in the same location.

He's been fixing and selling computers in the mostly residential area nestled between the Fraser River and the Central City area since the days of older IBM and Apple desktops. 

"Here is my home. So we love here. We love here's people," Lo said. "People support me and they love us, especially my wife. All the old people see her like a daughter."

But he's losing his long-held location at the end of May because his landlord, Primex Investments, won't continue his lease.

Bill Lo says finding a new location on what he considers a tight timeline is proving very challenging. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Primex plans to tear down the strip mall and build multiple rental apartment buildings and a new commercial building.

The company says the project will add 242 much-needed rental homes to the neighbourhood by 2026.

Lo says he only learned of his lease's end in March.

He says commercial real estate in Surrey has become so expensive that he can't find a new location on such short notice.

Primex and a subsidiary own multiple buildings on the block where Golden Top computers stands, including the apartment building to the left of the sign seen here. They plan to build several new rental apartment buildings and a new commercial building. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

He says he's being treated unfairly. 

"When they call me, I have to leave and I'm really, really shocked. I even cannot sleep," he said.

Stories like Lo's are becoming more common, according to a Surrey business leader.

She says many owners of small businesses are struggling to find affordable commercial space as property owners seek to cash in on ever-growing property values.

Bill Lo, owner of Golden Top Computer is pictured in his store. Lo immigrated to Canada from Taiwan in 1980 and has been pursuing entrepreneurship in Whalley ever since. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Company says it's been transparent

Primex bought the strip mall at 128 Street and 103 Avenue three years ago. It houses Golden Top, three other businesses and a large parking lot.

Lo claims that two years ago, when he attempted to renew his lease, a Primex representative told him about the redevelopment, but Lo was under the impression it was at least two to fours years from starting.

At that time, Lo was switched to a month-to-month lease.

A rendering of one of the apartment buildings Primex plans to build near 128 Street and 103 Avenue in Surrey. (Primex Investments Ltd.)

Fast forward to March 2022: Lo says Primex told him that he had two months to move out. Lo said that's not enough time. Not only would he have to take all his wares to a storage locker, he'd also have to find a new, affordable location — all while running the shop.

Primex declined an interview for this story but in a statement said the entire neighbourhood, including commercial tenants in the strip mall, were aware of the redevelopment plans over the last two years.

Lo had hoped to spend the next two years before retirement in his location. Now, he's begging his landlord to let him stay until the end of September while they prepare for the redevelopment.

"I really try to talk to the property company," Lo said. "And they refuse."

Permit not yet issued

Complicating matters, Lo says, is that as a Canada Post licensee, he can't move too close to another post office.

Canada Post says they're aware of Lo's situation and are working with him on next steps.

Primex said all commercial tenants will need to be out by the end of June so the company can remove hazardous materials and begin demolition to prepare for excavation. 

The City says Primex has not yet sought a demolition permit. The redevelopment has conditional city approval but final approval requires the demolition to be completed.

Growing city, growing issue

Anita Huberman with the Surrey Board of Trade says she's hearing of situation's like Lo's more commonly.

She said redevelopment is picking up throughout the city, especially in the city centre area just to the east of Golden Top.

She said it's perfectly understandable for property owners to get the full value of their investments but they should work with their tenants and make sure communication is clear — especially on a redevelopment.

"Because in the end, we're all in this together," Huberman said. 

In the meantime, Lo is faced with rebooting his computer business in the final years of his working life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is an award-winning journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at liam.britten@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten.

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