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Keeping the faith dealing with strains of progress Downtown

Localo Living owner Ana Matovinovic is so optimistic about Front Street and Downtown New Westminster
Localo Living owner Ana Matovinovic is so optimistic about Front Street and Downtown New Westminster's future she's building an espresso bar next to her antique store despite all the construction going on and on the way that is having an effect on the area's businesses.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

Step outside of Ana Matovinovic’s shop on Front Street and there’s construction and deconstruction either going on or being planned.

So it’s fitting it’s the same inside.

Matovinovic is building an espresso bar to go with her Localo Living ‘eclectic decor’ boutique. She’s made the bold move even though construction in Downtown New Westminster is wreaking havoc with many of the area’s businesses. She’s expanding while others have left or are contemplating leaving.

Why?

She sees a payoff in the future.

Matovinovic can’t wait for the city to take down the west half of the Front Street Parkade.

When this happens next year, natural light will flood into her store, and she expects customers will flood in, too, after the city beautifies the street.

“I believe in what Front Street is going to become. It will take a few months to anywhere near two years with the construction down here. I see the change that’s happening now, and that’s because of new residents that are coming to New West,” says Matovinovic. “They’re going to be demanding more services down here, different types of stores and coffee shops. It’s just the start of good things to come.”

Matovinovic admits her faith is more based on intuition than anything.

“I have to be honest with you, I am worried a little bit. It’s in the back of my mind,” she says.

“That is the key thing, the patience. I’m not one that has a lot of patience. It’s definitely teaching me to be patient, and to trust my sixth sense as well.”

David Sarraf owns several buildings Downtown.

He’s just lost one of his biggest tenants with Andy Bradshaw’s decision to move his British Store from Columbia Street to Surrey. And Bradshaw’s not the only one to bolt. While disappointed, Sarraf still sees the positive side to the loss. It will give him a chance to fix up the building and uncover the beauty of four windows on the top floor that somebody covered up decades ago.

“It’s going to cost me money, but I’m going to do it because I know it’s there,” says Sarraf.

But he won’t deny losing the Brit store and the butcher above hurts. “That’s a big hole in my pocket.”

The waterfront parkade, between Sixth and Begbie streets, is slated to come down next year. Above is a rendering of what the newly opened streetscape could look like. Courtesy City of New Westminster

The loss is also representative of what’s happening to Downtown businesses with constant construction closures due to projects like the Anvil Centre and the Trapp + Holbrook tower. In his reasons for leaving town, Bradshaw said he lost many customers after last October’s fire at McKenzie Street and Columbia wiped out three office buildings across the street.

“It’s not easy with what’s happening there,” says Sarraf, who has lost a few other tenants including a photo store which had its business drop by 80 to 90 per cent. “I’ve never had so many spaces empty on Columbia Street. It’s OK, I’ll survive it. What can you do? It has to [work]. We just have to make it work somehow.”

On the positive side, he recently leased a space for a coffee shop located next to the Wine Factory on Front Street. The proprietors already have Old Crow Coffee Co. up in the window, with a sign saying they plan to open in October—just a few months before that half of the parkade is slated to fall to the wrecking ball.

Sarraf has his fingers crossed for the owners.

“I hope they will make it. For them it’s a long-run thing. They know the construction is going to be there. [But] for the long run everything is going to be fine.”

Sarraf intends to be patient, too, despite traffic being so bad “you can’t even move around.”

“We think in the future it will be better,” says Sarraf, who recently joined a bunch of other Downtown businesses in a meeting with city staff to discuss upcoming construction disruptions. “The city is really trying very hard. You can’t blame them. You have to look at the future. In the future we’ll have a better waterfront, a better place to live. In the meantime we have to live with it somehow.”

New Westminster economic development manager Blair Fryer says the city intends to stay in contact with business owners, especially regarding the parkade demolition slated to start in January.

“We know this will have an impact on their business and so we’re working with them as well as the [Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association] at ways to mitigate some of that impact,” says Fryer. “In the end we believe the payoff will be very good for business owners and the community.”

That’s why Matovinovic and Sarraf keep the faith. Even when Sarraf finds out in the evening about some graffiti on one of his buildings he goes to clean it up.

“People look at me and think I’m nuts. At nine o’clock at night you should be at home watching TV,” says Sarraf.

“I can’t just walk away.”

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