Glebe businesses blame rising rent as more chains move in

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'No easy solutions' to changing retail landscape, councillor says

A letter on the door of this closed sushi restaurant on Bank Street in the Glebe shows the owner was in arrears.

A letter on the door of this closed sushi restaurant on Bank Street in the Glebe shows the owner was in arrears. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

By CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, CBC News

Independent business owners in the Glebe are worried that rising rents for retail properties are squeezing stores like theirs out of the neighbourhood, making room for more chain stores that can afford expensive leases.

Gilbert Russell, owner of Brio Bodywear on Bank Street just south of Clarey Avenue, fears that could become a trend that changes the character of the Glebe.

Some Glebe businesses aren't happy with the recent arrivial of McDonald's at the corner of Bank and Fifth. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

"As long as these rents stay high, the only people that can afford it is somebody that has deep pockets because they've got multiple stores, they can stand to lose money on that store, but unfortunately it changes the complexion of the neighbourhood," said Russell.

He points to the McDonald's that recently opened at Bank and Fifth Avenue as an example.

"It doesn't add to anything. Having another business that draws people is beneficial. Having something that doesn't draw people that's generic isn't beneficial. They're not going to come in just to come down to the McDonald's at Bank and Fifth," he said.

"So it's really sort of the absence of that other impact. And at some point if the ecosystem isn't supportive for an independent business, independent businesses leave. If it becomes a fast food strip, it becomes a chain strip."

'They don't stop'

Although the renewed Lansdowne Park and its major events like football games and concerts draw people to Bank Street in the Glebe, Russell doesn't believe they spend enough time visiting independent businesses there, and Miriam Rangel agrees.

"I just feel the people from the Glebe, from the neighbourhood, feel kind of discouraged to leave home sometimes because during the events, hundreds of people pass by, but they don't stop," said Rangel, owner of Cafe Morala, on Bank near First Avenue.

As a result, visitors stop at chain stores and restaurants they know, and Capital Ward Coun. David Chernushenko recognizes this can be a problem for smaller businesses.

"There's nothing we can do or should do to prevent them [chains] from opening. What we should be doing is encouraging the kind of things that would have the independent business owner and the people that come to them want to be there," he said.

Independent business owners in the Glebe worry rising rents could push them out and make way for more chain stores. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC) 

Vacancy issues

Because of high rents, there's a handful of storefront vacancies in the Glebe. Chernushenko doesn't believe the city should enact and enforce rent controls. The city is moving to eliminate the vacancy rebate program, and while that could help encourage landlords to fill spaces more quickly, he's worried that it may hurt property owners.

"It will mean that the landlord will have no excuse for, 'Hey, I get this rebate anyway, maybe I won't hurry so much to rent it.' The flipside of course is that hurting a landlord or a property that's hard to rent won't even get the rebate on it. So no easy solutions, really," Chernushenko said.

Russell believes until there's a solution, the Glebe could suffer.

"The city doesn't have a vision. It doesn't have a plan. There's nothing. Basically they take care of the transportation, they take care of the developers, and then they just hope that the retail works itself out. But it's not that simple," he said.

Independent businesses in the Glebe say they rely on foot traffic and visitors from other parts of the city who make the neighbourhood a destination. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)