A rare child-oriented café off Commercial Drive is closing in the face of a massive rent increase, a trend that’s dogging many other independent stores in Vancouver’s trendier neighbourhoods, observers say.

Little Nest owner Mary Macintyre says unless she can get a break from a 50 per cent rent increase for her storefront on Charles Street, she’ll have to close, leaving many parents in the lurch.

“I think we do have to close. We can’t be here any more. It’s a big loss to the community,” Macintyre said.

Little Nest is designed as a paradise for parents where children are not just allowed but encouraged. There are toys, space for strollers, and – most important for young parents – company.

“You can make a lunch date and you can have a conversation with another adult because your kids are happy, they’re not disturbing anyone else because everyone else is here with their kids too,” said Lori Thorlone, who was at Little Nest with her children Zoe and Lola.

Thorlone said when she learned that Little Nest was closing, she cried.

“I was devastated, I was really upset. It was the last thing I expected. This place is super successful,” she said.

When Little Nest started six years ago, rent was $2,900. After the first three-year term, the rent was raised to $4,600. Recently the landlord has proposed about $6,500 a month, with 10 per cent on top each year after that.

That was too much for the small business to absorb, Macintyre said.

“I couldn’t sign it, so we went month to month, and that was a struggle,” she said.

The building manager did not return CTV News’s phone calls.

Little Nest is one of the 200 independent cafés in Vancouver mapped by Andy Yan of Bing Thom Architects. He says chains vastly outnumber independents downtown, and rent increases in the rest of the city threaten the colourful character of neighbourhood coffee shops.

“In one way high rents cost independents,” he said.  Various cities like Austin and San Francisco have passed ordinances to protect independent stores, he added.

Michael Geller said the reason for the rent increase may be because of rising property values, which translates into higher property taxes for land owners. One solution, he said, may be to re-evaluate how these storefronts are valued and give landowners a break.

Macintyre said she would support any measure that would make it easier to operate a small business and make rent more dependable in changing times.

“Small businesses go in and take risks and it makes a neighbourhood special – but it’s the landlords who benefit,” she said. “I’d love to see a better form of regulation.”