Health Express on Johnston Road in uptown White Rock is still open for business, owner Rick Falls says – although you might not know it from the fencing and trucks frequently obscuring the entrance during upgrading of the street and construction of the retirement residence high-rise next door. Alex Browne photo

White Rock construction impacts small business

Health Express owner says work poses hidden costs to city economy

Health Express owner Rick Falls says he understands the need for the reconstruction of Johnston Road, in front of his uptown White Rock store.

He says he also understands the imperative for re-development that is building a new, 23-storey seniors residence next door, and which will create a large new development (reaching 26 storeys at its highest point) on the nearest corner, at Royal Bank Plaza.

But he says it was difficult to believe interests of neighbouring business owners were being protected by the city when fences went up around the sidewalk without notice last week, and whenever multiple trucks showed up unannounced blocking the stores from view.

“Nobody says they’re sorry,” he told Peace Arch News. “They turn my life upside-down and nobody says anything. All of a sudden (it’s like) there are 20 cement trucks in front of the store.”

Falls said that although some of his concerns have been addressed, he’d like to see the city give attention to better communication – as well as compensation for existing businesses – amid the current spate of development.

After he called the city last week to complain about the railings that went up in front of his store at 1550 Johnston Rd., he was visited by a project manager from the city contractor who promised more signage to let the public know stores are open.

It was also explained to him that water and sewer services are also being upgraded – which will call for road repatching as well as the sidewalk work. The project is being done in phases, he added, starting with his side of Johnston Road and progressing to the west.

“It would have been nice if the city had given me some idea of how this was all going to unfold,” Falls said. “I think it happened too fast and they weren’t quite ready with the information.”

Falls believes that potential decimation of trade during development and infrastructure construction remains a hidden cost to the city’s economic health that isn’t factored in when approved, he said.

And he believes there ought to be a formula – based on monies collected for new development – that could help reduce this impact.

“They collect all this money – taxes are going up and developers all have to pay CACs, but they don’t go to the businesses that are affected. We take a huge hit in our living, but nobody says, ‘why don’t we help you out, while this is going on?’”

Falls said he and his wife Wendy bought the Health Express operation – which has specialized in supplements, nutrition and vitamins for 18 years – four years ago.

For the first 2½ years, it worked out well, he said – the former owners had had “a pretty small operation,” and through computerization of stock and pricing, the Falls were able to nearly triple sales volume.

But since last year – since work started on the Oceana PARC retirement residence site next door – business has taken a significant hit, Falls said.

“I’m down over $100,000,” he said. “All the parking has been removed, and add to that the closure of the sidewalk, and customers get frustrated… With older people – who are most of my customers – they don’t like change to begin with, and when there are too many obstacles, they’re going to go somewhere else.”

Compounding problems has been an increase in taxes which he says has been passed on to him in what is “pretty close to a 15 per cent increase in rent.”

He noted that walk-in traffic stores, such as Health Express, are more affected than upstairs businesses in his block.

“My concern is that my business gets cut in half, but nobody gives me any compensation. The Royal Bank, when that project comes, can absorb it in their multi-million-dollar operation – it’s not even a hiccup. I’m not asking for a handout… I’m asking for support.”

Fortunately, although he’s been forced to make smaller orders to suppliers, he believes that Health Express will be able to weather the current shortfall in business.

“The good thing is, I’m good with numbers,” he said, noting he is also more used to dealing with city administrations than many business owners.

Falls said he understands the need for redevelopment on the Johnston Road corridor, and has been able to explain to many customers the disruption of services and the dangers of uneven sidewalks caused by the root systems of trees that have since been removed.

“Everything new that happens will be a more modern version of White Rock – which is a wonderful thing,” he said.

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