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Businesses bear the brunt on New West's Front Street

Harm Woldring, owner of The Wine Factory, and Paul Benton of Westley Military Supplies say all the Downtown construction has been hurting their businesses on Front Street. They
Harm Woldring, owner of The Wine Factory, and Paul Benton of Westley Military Supplies say all the Downtown construction has been hurting their businesses on Front Street. They're upset because they don't expect it to end for a few years since there are several projects for the area in the works and they're getting little sympathy from city hall.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

The Cambie Street fear has struck Front Street.

It certainly has Harm Woldring afraid.

It makes The Wine Factory owner fearful of his bottom line.

When the Canada Line was constructed in Vancouver prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics, several small businesses on Cambie were financially ruined.

The cut-and-cover construction made it inconvenient for their customers.

Woldring sees a similar scenario shaping up for Front Street.

Several projects already underway have hurt his business and more are on the way.

“People are exasperated. Business has been terrible for everybody,” said Woldring.

“We’re in exactly the same situation [as Cambie Street].”

Last October’s massive fire across McKenzie Street from his business meant a lot of demolition work has been going on.

On the other side, work continues on the Trapp+Holbrook residential project.

Woldring says it closes that block of Front four days a week.

And next year, the parkade above The Wine Factory will be torn down which will require months of closures.

On top of that, Woldring said traffic through the Downtown core has become even more congested with the Anvil Centre construction and commuters traveling to the Pattullo Bridge to avoid Port Mann Bridge tolls.

Customers say to him, “It’s too much hassle, it’s too much trouble” to shop on Front Street.

“What does that mean for the businesses down here? We just suck wind,” said Woldring. “There’s a small number of us, about a dozen business owners that are bearing the brunt of this.”

Woldring said his business has dropped 25 per cent since January. He claims when he takes his concerns to city hall he gets “zero sympathy other than lip service, and I’m just frustrated.”

Any suggestion to move his business gets his blood boiling even more. He’s still paying off the $150,000 it cost to move there three years ago.

“You’d be nuts to bring your business to downtown New Westminster.”

Paul Benton of Westley Military Supplies said his customers usually park in a lot directly across Front Street from his store. But it’s been taken over for staging as the city builds a pedestrian connection from the parkade to Westminster Pier Park.

“That definitely has affected me as far as sales because there’s no place for anybody to park,” said Benton.

There are several other projects on the books that will affect businesses and residents in the Downtown core in the next several years.

The Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association met with council members Tuesday to discuss the situation.

“It’s certainly a challenge, absolutely. With the many different projects going on we can see a light at the end of the tunnel, but it seems years away,” said BIA executive director Kendra Johnston.

The city has begun work on a management plan to minimize impacts from the many projects.

“We have to find some solutions to this. In my view we can’t have businesses failing under this type of hardship,” said Coun. Bill Harper, chair of the city’s economic development committee. “We know these people, they are our friends, and they’re valuable businesses in our city and we want to make sure they survive … They’ve invested heavily in their businesses and in New Westminster.”

Harper admitted it won’t be easy to figure out how to keep existing businesses going while new investment comes into the Downtown.

“It’s going to be a real challenge, there’s no ifs ands or buts about it,” said Harper. “The more the city becomes attractive as a place to invest or develop the more [construction disruption] you’re going to get.”

The management plan is expected to include a good neighbour policy and consultation with downtown business and resident groups. It should take two months to complete. Harper said it can also be used as a blueprint for other projects in the city.

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