Chinatown businesses in city-owned mall desperate for rent relief
VANCOUVER -- At Chinatown Plaza, a City of Vancouver-owned mall on Keefer Street, most shops have been closed since March when COVID-19 forced most businesses to shut their doors.
Happy Times Travel owner Glynnis Chan says her business has taken a huge hit.
“No people coming in, no traffic, no consumers,” she said. “We are disappointed. We don’t have any rent relief plan from our landlord, the City of Vancouver.”
The city has allowed its commercial tenants to defer April and May rent, but they will be expected to pay it all back starting next year, and June rent is due on time.
“A deferral is a good start from the city, but we need more help from the federal government to assist these organizations and businesses,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart.
Municipal landlords like the City of Vancouver are not eligible for the Canada Emergency Rent Assistance Program, which offers tenants a 75 percent reduction. The mayor says he’s pressuring Ottawa to change that but those conversations haven’t been effective so far.
Two doors away from Happy Times Travel, a storefront has been available for lease for five years and Chan says the one next to that has been empty for 10 years.
Now business owners in the mall say if they don’t get a break on their rent, their shops could soon be empty as well.
“My travel agency, I’ve been working here for 36 years and I don’t want to close it. I want to carry on,” said Chan.
All along Keefer Street, "For Lease" signs dot windows in the same block as Chinatown Plaza, making it unlikely the city could quickly fill any new vacancies in the mall. Still, the mayor says the city needs its rent money.
“We’re doing what we can here to help but we’re also under financial strain as well," Stewart said. "We have to do everything we can to keep the city running and those are very, very tough choices."
Those tough choices could force more small businesses to close and leave the city without any rent revenue while it searches for new tenants in a recessed economy.