For 12 years, Brad Hodge has based his computer repair company at home. But with equipment taking over his living space, the Squamish resident wants to move his business into an office. The problem is, in Squamish that's not an easy task.
Commercial lease rates are high considering what's being offered, Hodge said. Then there's dealing with the draw of the dollar to Vancouver's mega-malls. To top it off, if those two concerns are conquered, finding start-up space for budding businesses in Squamish is a challenge, Hodge said, noting that step in the ladder seems to be missing.
“It's frustrating,” he noted. “I probably would have expanded and hired somebody years ago.”
Squamish's commercial lease rates are below those of most B.C. communities, said John Jervis, real estate company CB Richard Ellis's director of corporate services. Downtown storefronts run between $13 to $14 a square foot. In Salmon Arm, a community with roughly the same population as Squamish, main floor downtown space costs approximately $14 to $16 per square foot, not including property taxes or building fees. In Terrace, a community with approximately 5,000 fewer residents than Squamish, commercial lease rates sit between $10 to $15 per square foot.
For Squamish councillor and physiotherapist Susan Chapelle the difficultly in expanding her business, Squamish Therapeutics, is the lack of suitable downtown commercial space available.
“I could probably employee 10 more people if I could find adequate space,” she said.
Half the downtown properties are old and don't meet current building codes, Chapelle said. Chapelle is moving her company into the new medical building on Cleveland Avenue. It was one of the only places which fit her business's requirements, Chapelle said, noting she would have bought a bigger space, but nothing was on the market.
“A lot of the property owners in Squamish have held onto their properties and they have been passed down to their kids and they don't want to put any money into fixing them up, but still want great commercial rates,” Chapelle said.
She wants to see more innoviation in Squamish, such as Vancouver's growing movement toward hubs — shared workspace in which not-for-profit organizations, artists, designers and other start-up companies rent areas within the facility.
“Squamish is so far behind on actually thinking about economic development in that way,” Chapelle said.
Squamish faces a catch-22 situation, Jervis said. Businesses seek upgrades to rental spaces, while landlords need higher rent to pour cash back into buildings. But until landlords have hope that their investments will pay off with increased business for their tenants and ultimately higher leases, nothing will change, he noted.
The wheel starts turning with streetscapes, Jervis said. Local residents, the District of Squamish and business organizations have to encourage people to visit and purchase locally. Gastown's economic growth got its boost when the City of Vancouver put in cobbled streets, Jervis said, adding landlords took note of the improvements and so did shoppers. Today, the area is one of the city's hot spots.
“These are actually pretty minute things,” Jervis said of downtown improvements. “It is basically a call for leadership.”