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Pearl's 2nd's set to expand and revive

But some downtown business owners concerned about proliferation of second-hand stores

The proposed expansion of Pearl's 2nd's, one of downtown's five second hand shops, has some local business owners worried about downtown becoming "a place to put the riff raff."

"I don't mind that they're expanding, and it's good they're helping the women's centre," said Gelato Carina owner Gregory Fischer.

"But what gets me is that this is the sixth second hand business to open up on Cleveland within two blocks and it's just too much."

Fischer feels the stigma that accompanies second hand stores is detrimental to the hard work downtown business owners and the downtown business improvement association (BIA) have put in to increase vibrancy downtown.

"We've worked hard to bring downtown to a specific standard and I'm not saying get rid of any second hand stores," he said. "Just don't add any."

He said too many second hands stores in one area creates a negative stigma.

Despite the negativity surrounding the expansion, the store's operator and beneficiary, Howe Sound Women's Centre Society, insists it will be a positive change.

"We're actually trying to make it nicer and give it a facelift and improve the image," said Howe Sound Women's Centre executive director Sheila Allen.

"I should think the downtown business owners would be happy that we're spending a bit of money to make it look nicer as well."

Store manager Kate Harvey said it's possible to have an appealing second hand store.

"I feel that the public's perception of just adding another junky second hand store is wrong," she said. "We're giving the store a makeover with a new look and a new feel.

"There are lots of streets in Vancouver where there's tons of second hand stores and it doesn't seem like a low income rundown bad area."

Allen said second hand stores are successful in Squamish and clarified that Pearl 2nd's wasn't officially adding another second hand store - it was expanding.

The plan is to occupy the former Grilled Fromage space two stores down from Pearl 2nd's for now, but as of June 1, Pearl's 2nd's will take over Kitchen Corner location because they're moving elsewhere.

"Effective June 1st, the two stores will become one big store," she said, adding they would knock out the wall to maximize space and volunteers.

Allen said the new business model, which includes selling furniture, art, kitchenware and home necessities, comes from the successful Re-Use-It Centre in Whistler.

"We've done a lot of research (and paid a consultant $10,000 to do a study on it) and one thing that we've noticed is that by enhancing the store and being able to carry furniture, we can recycle more wood, decrease landfill waste and serve the needs of the community," she said.

Allen said District of Squamish staff is supportive of the idea because there is so much furniture being unnecessarily brought to the landfill.

"There really isn't one big store to drop off used furniture at - so that is the premise of the second store, but also kitchenwares and art and more of a household section in the store."

For Fischer, this is the crux of the issue and a reason Kitchen Corner is leaving.

"They're competing with the retail businesses here in downtown that are selling new goods and therefore can't compete with Pearl's low prices," he said.

"Look at Kitchen Corner - it is going to move because you can't sell high end kitchen utensils with second hand shops on both sides - you can't sell Ferraris beside used car lots."

Fischer said he believes the district should have some control over what type of retailers are allowed where so there's no over saturation of one product.

"I think there should be a bylaw that decides what businesses we need downtown so we don't have too much of one thing," he said. "We already have three coffee shops in a row."

Fischer said he's unaware what power the district has in that regard but he plans to approach district staff with his concerns.

"They [the district] should have more power than just sitting there and allowing stuff to come in we don't want," he said.

"Since we already have five places here why not open up in Garibaldi Village? Why Cleveland?"

Community services general manager Cameron Chalmers said no such bylaw exists.

"We can control use, but not users," he said. "For example, we can designate a shop as retail, but not dictate what type of retail."

With regards to location, Chalmers said affordability plays a key role.

"In the downtown lease rates are $12 or $13 per square foot whereas Garibaldi Village is double that," he said.

Allen said affordability plays a major role, but downtown is also more conducive to foot traffic and the genre of clients who frequent Pearl's 2nd's.

"It makes sense to have second hand stores close to where the community need is," she said. "A lot of people who are downtown don't necessarily have vehicles, they like to walk and they like things at a good price.

"We also serve our clients out of that store by giving them free vouchers so they can go in and choose clothing items - so it makes sense to be in a location that would be close to that."

Allen said the centre is pairing the expansion with an employment aid initiative.

"We're looking at some programs with other agencies to train people who may want retail skills, people who may want skills refurbishing furniture or maybe people with disabilities and so forth," she said.

"It's going to be a multi-faceted program in which we're non-profit, we're recycling and we're also going to help train people in employment skills as well."

The centre is hoping to work with the Ministry of Housing and Social Development and is currently applying for two grants to help cover expansion and program implementation costs.

Allen said this decision comes on the heels of a difficult financial year for the Howe Sound Women's Centre Society.

"This year the women's centre is down $15,000 to $20,000 in our fundraising endeavours and donations," she said. "That's why we have to be creative, think outside of the box and be innovative."

Harvey said opening the new store wouldn't actually increase the store's operational cost much because they would be able to empty a storage locker they're currently paying for to keep their overflow items.

"Realistically there's not a ton of money in used furniture and we know that," said Allen.

"We just want some extra money to support the programs and also follow our mandate which is keeping people employed and giving them job skills."

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