Whyte Avenue businesses struggling with high costs, few customers

High property taxes and high rents are hitting business owners -- many who say the city is neglecting the area in favour of downtown.

Four other businesses in three-block radius of La Shish looking for new owners

Roy Sasaine says he had high hopes when he opened La Shish on Whyte Avenue. Two years later, flagging sales have forced him to put the location up for sale. (CBC)

When Roy Sassine  started La Shish on Whyte Avenue two years ago, he thought the Lebanese restaurant had the recipe for success.

But now, he’s joined a growing number of Old Strathcona restaurants and club owners who say the location is no longer as attractive as it used to be.

“The city is focusing a lot on the downtown core and we’re kind of getting neglected here,” Sassine said.

The owner of La Shish said the city hasn’t provided the services that business like his need to survive — street-cleaning and parking are lacking in his area of the avenue. He argues that Whyte Avenue has become less attractive to customers, but that landlords and the city are still charging for prime business real estate.

Roy Sasaine says he doesn't see how a restaurant could survive on Whyte Avenue, with high property taxes and high rents. (CBC)
“Honestly, we can't keep up with expenses right now, lease is so expensive, property taxes have jumped up by ten thousand dollars,” he said.

“Guess who is going to pay for that hike? Us.”

He said that while there have been some overtures made by the city to draw customers to the area — space for patios, improvements for pedestrians and other ideas — they all come with a hefty price tag of higher property taxes.

“Everything, everything, everything is so pricey,” he said.

Sassine recently put La Shish up for sale. He’s not alone; at least four other businesses nearby are listed as looking for new owners.  One is the Pourhouse Gastro Pub, next door to La Shish, while three others are nightclubs — DV8, the Pawnshop and Mixx Party Bar.

It’s a trend that has long worried the executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association. Murray Davidson said he has heard from many businesses who no longer feel they can be successful on Whyte Avenue.

“We’ve had it good here for so long. And now you have to hustle,” he said.

He echoes Sasaine’s feelings that the city has neglected Whyte Avenue in favour of growing other business districts in the city, like downtown.

He said Old Strathcona needs better infrastructure and services if many businesses are going to survive.

Murray Davidson, the executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association, says the city has neglected Whyte Avenue in favour of other business districts. (CBC)
"In general, the lights being on … we don’t get the taxi service we need,” he said.  

“We’re just hoping the city will step up."

Not every business is struggling on Whyte Avenue. Murray said many are thriving, while the others are barely able to keep the lights on. In many ways, the area has become a victim of its own success — long a popular place with shoppers, landlords have become accustomed to being able to charge high rents.

But Davidson said if the area doesn’t get more support soon, still-rising costs and a flagging economy could see more For Sale signs in Whyte Avenue windows.

Sassine, who had high hopes when he came to Whyte Avenue, now warns others restaurant owners from trying their luck along the street.

“It’s got a cool vibe … but we’re not getting enough support.”


  • A previous version of this story stated that Sassine owned other La Shish locations. That information was incorrect.
    Feb 10, 2015 3:37 PM MT