Calgary

Owl's Nest Books downsizing after 40 years due to increased tax burden

Calgary's oldest independent bookstore says years of tax increases have forced them to make the hard decision to downsize and restructure in an effort to save their business. 

Store is Calgary's oldest independent bookstore

After more than 20 years in the same location, Susan Hare says mounting property taxes are forcing Owl's Nest Books to downsize. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

Calgary's oldest independent bookstore says years of tax increases have forced them to make the hard decision to downsize and restructure in an effort to save their business. 

Owl's Nest Books has been a part of the Calgary scene for over four decades. The last 23 of those years have been spent in two side-by-side bays of Britannia Plaza. But the book store's owners say Calgary's current business climate means that in the New Year, they'll be closing the Owlets childrens' side of the store and consolidating into a single bay. 

"Our expenses of costs of doing business have just been skyrocketing over the last few years in great part due to the downloading of the business property taxes outside of downtown," said Owl's Nest co-owner, Susan Hare.

'Breaks my heart'

Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas says city council is to blame. 

"It just breaks my heart to see what the mounting and crushing tax burden has really done to these made in Calgary success stories," he said. 

The Owlet side of Owl's Nest Books (pictured above) will be closed in the New Year. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

And, Farkas says he's worried things are only about to get worse heading into budget talks next month.

"My fear is with us going into the budget in November the residents are still facing potentially a nine per cent tax increase. The strip mall owner is potentially facing about a 20 per cent increase," he said. 

"So unless we change how we operate here at city council unfortunately it's going to cause Calgary to be harder and harder to do business in."

Struggling for years

Hare says it's been a struggle for small business owners like her for years. 

"We notified our councillor back in 2015 when the property tax burden started to skyrocket. We discussed it with him right away to say, 'this is untenable, we can't stay in business for very long if these kind of rates keep increasing,'" she said.

"And although our councillor at the time heard us there wasn't much he could do as an individual and nothing has changed."

'Half of our operating budget'

Farkas says as council debates budget, and weighs the impacts on business' like Owl's Nest, he hopes they take a hard look at salaries and wages.

"Unfortunately, that line item at the city is now more than half of our operating budget," he said.

"We're seeing very generous wage settlements. We're seeing the defined benefit packages things like the very generous pensions even look no further than city council's current."

Farkas says he believes the city should bring compensation more in line with the private sector.

Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas says the city should take a hard look at what he believes to be out of touch salaries and wages. (Lucie Edwardson)

'We would have to close our doors'

Hare says the store also plans to introduce a sponsorship plan in the coming month to aid in their restructuring and allow them to continue to operate. 

"We're hoping that we can turn to the community in November and December and see if there's a way we can ask for some help," she said. 

Ultimately she hopes city councillors hear her and other small business owners and take steps to help them stay afloat.

"Like lowering business taxes to something that's comparable to what kind of money is possible to make it in the location," she said. 

Hare says if downsizing doesn't work, it could be the final chapter for Owl's Nest. 

"Regretfully we would have to close our doors. We just can't afford to continue subsidizing the store at the rate we've been doing so for the last several years."

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta,. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

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