By David F. Rooney
A brown paper protest that saw most downtown shop owners paper over their windows to symbolize the death of their businesses if the proposed highway mall goes ahead gave the city’s man shopping streets an eerie — even creepy — atmosphere on Wednesday, October 21.
Downtown merchants have been feeling very jittery since they found out that developer Hall Pacific (HP) wants to build a $20 million strip mall on Steve Platt’s property along the Trans Canada Highway’s intersection with Highway 23 North. The mall is supposed to be anchored by a discount grocery store, a pharmacy (widely assumed to be from a national chain), and a health and wellness clinic of some description. Those uses were not permitted under the existing zoning and Council began the weeks-long process of considering the zoning changes sought by HP.
Those zoning changes were opposed by a broad spectrum of people. Please click here to watch The Current’s three-part video of the public hearing on the zoning changes. The developer, however, claimed it will benefit the community by generating 200 jobs and %500,000 in annual taxes for the City. City Council nonetheless approved the zoning changes. And that, as you can imagine, pleased the developers.
Of course that was not the end of the matter. There is still more to the process and then the developers must apply for a development permit. In the meantime, a number of downtown merchants initiated the brown paper protest, began collecting signatures for a petition and issued a letter to the local citizenry.
“The premise behind this protest is that everybody is feeling pretty wretched,” said Liz Worsted of Free Spirit Sports. “Retailers feel there has to be longer window of time for public input. kind of like the process when the resort was brought in. It was a longer process, as it should be given the fact that it’s going to have a major impact on the city.”
Many people think there should be more time and thought put into this proposal because “this is a real game changer.” And it could, in fact, be a real game changer for Liz and her husband Elmer. They do a good business but they’re not getting rich off it. They could probably go on like that for decades to come, but someone like, say, Sport Check set up shop on the mall they could well steal the lion’s share of retail sports sales, she said.
“We’re not trying to put anybody’s feet to the fire,” said Steven Cross, owner of Revy Outdoors on Mackenzie Avenue.
The brown-paper protestors are just trying “to make Council think about the issue and listen to the concerns of the people, said Karen Powers, owner of the Conversations Coffee House on Mackenzie Avenue.
Walk a few blocks north to Alpine Village Mall and you can see that almost every business there, including Coopers’s, had papered over their windows, too.
One of that mall’s business owner, David Lafreniere of Peoples Drug Mart, is very worried about this development. He fears that the arrival of a national pharmacy (widely believed to be Shoppers Drug Mart) would kill his small business. Peoples is what is called a banner pharmacy. Under that system shops are owned lock, stock and barrel by their individual proprietors. Peoples offers its network of owners a variety of specially priced services such as bags bearing their logos, brochures, newspaper inserts and other items. Despite that they are true small businesses owned and operated by their owners. Pharmasave, too, is a banner operation. A national pharmacy chain, however, is a different kind of critter. It is owned and operated by a corporation and everyone working at one is an employee of the chain.
“By putting these businesses in one place you create a powerful reason for people to divert business from the downtown to the mall,” he said. “For example in Columbia Park it would actually easier to drive to the new mall than it is to go downtown. You’re really kind of segmenting the town and diverting business from the core, in my opinion.” Pharmacies make most of their money off the prescriptions they feel for local residents. Yes, both stores sell everything from toilet paper to toothpaste and skin lotion, but those are incidentals, Lafreniere said
Mayor Mark McKee says there are a many people in town who do want the development to go ahead and Councillor Linda Nixon hit that nail on the head when she voted in favour of the zoning changes that permit HP to apply for a development permit. She said many Columbia Park residents have spoken up in favour of the mall. And then there are those folks who would welcome a discount grocery store.
McKee is confident that Council has made the correct decision and he has faith in Revelstoke’s ability to embrace change.
“For years our economic development surveys have shown that the people of Revelstoke want (an expanding economy and an increase in their shopping options),” he said Wednesday evening.
That’s certainly true. But part of the problem lies in the fact that little is known about who’s going to do business at the proposed mall. People easily become anxious when they are faced with an information vacuum. More information about Hall Pacific itself would like alleviate some of the public’s fears.
There are a few additional photos below and if you’d like see what one shop owner thinks please activate the YouTube player below: