British Columbia

Rising rents, online shopping creating challenges for locally-run business

Non-profit business group LOCO B.C. is launching a research project to study how rising rents and online shopping are affecting local business across the province.

Non-profit business group LOCO B.C. is launching a research project to study leasing in the province

Pedestrians walk by empty store-fronts on Vancouver's Robson Street. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

While this week marks the start of Buy Local Week, it's getting more and more difficult to find a locally-owned business to support, according to one group, which is fighting to save local stores.

LOCO B.C. — a non-profit group of businesses — says locally-owned businesses are struggling because of pricey real estate and online shopping.

The problem has gotten so bad, the non-profit is launching a research project today to look at leasing in the province.

Amy Robinson, founder and executive director of LOCO B.C. told CBC's The Early Edition business owners have no idea whether they're paying a fair rent.

"We've talked to businesses over the past several years and there's no transparency around pricing," she explained.

Rapid development is also affecting business owners.

"Those that are in a block that's not slated for demolition and have relatively long term leases — three to five years — feel good about where they're at.

"Others that are rapidly developing are feeling really uneasy and like they can't afford the spaces that are available when they move," she said.

While she hopes the research project will provide more clarity around what is going on around leasing and what can be done, Robinson said municipalities can help.

They make retail space more affordable for locally-owned businesses by taxing empty store fronts and preserving buildings and businesses with heritage value, she said.

Online shopping attracting more consumers

Another major factor affecting locally-owned businesses is consumers' growing reliance on online shopping. 

"It is no surprise that we launch Buy Local Week on Cyber Monday following Black Friday," she said, adding that online shopping has been getting an increasing volume of sales.

Online shopping is so ubiquitous a new Canada Post store in Vancouver has a fitting room. People can immediately try on their clothes and return them if they don't fit. (Denis Dossmann/CBC)

Her group is encouraging locally-owned businesses to cultivate some kind of online presence and have some of their inventory pictured online even if they don't sell online.

Robinson said locally-owned businesses hope the benefits of shopping local — supporting the local community and economy — will still engage consumers.

"Local businesses are spirited and they don't want anyone to feel sorry for them by any means. They really want consumers to understand what they get when they shop at a local business."

With files from The Early Edition

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled Pricey spaces, online shopping leave local businesses struggling to compete