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COLUMN: Doing good business in New Westminster
BAD LANDLORD, GOOD LANDLORD: Last month, the local chapter of ACORN did another great job of drawing attention to the neglect wrought upon tenants at a local building by the Sahota family, which recently received an unprecedented fine from the Residential Tenancy Branch for failure to plug a soggy roof in Whalley.
A landlord on the flip side might just be David Sarraf, who now claims to have the “five best rooves” in Downtown New West.
Sarraf is one of those hands-on owners cities love, and specializes in turning commercial buildings’ fortunes around.
The day I spoke to him, he was driving from Vancouver, heading to one of his Columbia Street buildings to let the cable guy in for a yoga-studio tenant who couldn’t be there. Two years ago, he says, he “didn’t even know how to get to New West” when he called the city for info about the Paramount building, which was on the market. He had a long chat with Lisa Spitale, the city’s development manager, and she invited him to city hall and laid out the city’s plans for Columbia and introduced him to heritage planner Julie Schueck.
“I haven’t even bought anything yet,” he recalls saying. But he did—and since bought four more buildings Downtown—won over by the kind of service he says bigger cities don’t provide (he owns more than 30 buildings across Metro Vancouver).
Sarraf is often mistaken for a janitor because he’s always at his buildings tidying, painting, sprucing them up. He proudly said the very same week he purchased the Sherlock’s (659 Columbia) building from Andy Bradshaw earlier this year, he put on a new roof. The city knew of Sarraf’s track record, I’m told, and was keen to get him onboard.
A few doors down from Sherlock’s at 635 Columbia is another building he owns, home to Orchid Cellmark DNA lab. When Sarraf bought it there was the lab downstairs and a pharmaceutical company upstairs, but he’s since sliced it up to make room for more than 20 tenants, including a church, hypnotherapy school, realtor, massage, cigar shop, esthetician, security company, roofer, Korean student services and an ad agency. There’s even a screenwriter who books space. Sarraf jokingly says that all the services are there for a self-contained world.
Sarraf says a little investment in a property can go a long way. With older properties he exposes the brick to add warmth. And when he found out the woman at the DNA lab was a master gardener he bought plants for the front planters and she happily maintains them.
“I don’t work for the money. We have to pay our bills but I work for my tenants. I want them to feel good, I want them to be my friend.” Somebody find a factory to build more of this guy.
BA-DA BOOM: Here’s a surprising statistic—business licences in New Westminster have more than doubled in the last five years, from 1,762 in 2006 to 3,805 in 2011.
I asked if there was some strange anomaly at play, but the city’s manager of permits and licensing says for the most part it represents legitimate growth.
Keith Coueffin says the city has stepped up enforcement, and now requires all construction trades doing work in the city to get their licence. But that only accounts for a small portion of the growth, he says. The number of resident-oriented businesses like mom & pop storefronts and chain retail grew from about 1,000 in 2006 to 1,900 in 2011.
Coueffin says part of it is due to a lot of vacant space getting filled, and the creation of new commercial space at places like Queensborough Landing shopping centre, Plaza 88 and the Brewery District in Sapperton, home to Thrifty Foods.
And I suppose David Sarraf helped out too.
• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.