Some Gastown businesses say roadwork is costing them millions

Some business owners in one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods say an ongoing construction project has been financially devastating, costing them millions of dollars in lost revenue.

The City of Vancouver began work to repair loose bricks and asphalt patches in Gastown’s Maple Tree Square early this March. As part of its 2023-2026 Capital Plan, the city has earmarked $10 million to improve the neighbourhood. 

But Kim Briscoe, owner of Kimprints, an art store in Gastown, says her business has dropped by about 25 per cent since the construction began.

“The work is necessary, we need the roads to be fixed, but it has been a long process and there’s no car access anymore,” she told CBC News. 

Woman with light reddish-blonde shoulder length hair stands in front of artwork on walls.
Kim Briscoe, owner of Kimprints, an art store in Gastown, says her business has dropped by about 25 per cent since the construction began. (Murray Titus/CBC)

Many other businesses in the neighbourhood are also struggling due to the ongoing project, according to the Gastown Business Improvement Society (GBIS).

The association, which represents more than 600 businesses, estimates its members have collectively lost about $5 million in revenue over the past two months. 

“Businesses are down anywhere between 20 to 50 per cent,” said GBIS executive director Walley Wargolet.

“Some have even had to lay off their folks,” he added.

A fenced off area blocking a construction site with a sign that includes information about the project.
In Gastown’s Maple Tree Square, crews are working to repair loose bricks and asphalt patches. Construction work began early March and is slated to end in mid-June. (Murray Titus/CBC)

Briscoe says a loss in revenue has meant a decrease in the number of hours for her staff. 

“We haven’t laid anyone off but we have reduced hours … because people think Gastown is closed.”

In a statement to CBC News, the city said it has added about 33 “Businesses are Open” signs throughout the neighbourhood to mitigate the impacts of the construction work, which is slated to end mid-June.

The city said it has also activated electronic messaging boards to help direct the public to available parking.  

Man with short grey hair wearing glasses stands in rainy downtown street in front of construction barrier.
“Businesses are down anywhere between 20 to 50 per cent,” says Walley Wargolet, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Society. (Murray Titus/CBC)

But more could be done to offset the costs to businesses, said Brent Todderin, the city’s former chief planner.

“The best way to mitigate the temporary impact is for both the city and the businesses to be smart and creative about not just making sure you know the stores are still open, that’s easy, but how do you still make it a magnet?” he said.

Todderin said instead of simply fencing off construction sites with signs, the city should think “outside of the box” to inform the public.

“Maybe a time lapse [of the construction work] or a video showing the transformation so people can stop … and [see how the space] will be in the future,” he said.

A sign outside of a patio restaurant in Gastown, which says: "Businesses are Open."
The City of Vancouver says it has installed 33 ‘Businesses are Open’ signs throughout the neighbourhood and has activated electronic messaging boards to help direct the public to available parking. (Murray Titus/CBC)

Wargolet said the business association has come up with several of its own ideas to get creative.

“We had to take matters into our own hands,” he said. “We put some additional marketing signs that were cheeky that we hoped would go viral, but the city wouldn’t even let us have those up.”

The society also started a free parking initiative in March to offer visitors three hours of free parking once a week.

Summer pedestrian-only zones   

Throughout July and August, parts of the neighbourhood will be turned into pedestrian-only zones.

WATCH | Car-free zones approved in Vancouver’s Gastown this summer 

Car-free zones approved in Vancouver’s Gastown this summer

3 months ago

Duration 2:10

The City of Vancouver has approved a pilot project that will see parts of the Gastown neighbourhood as pedestrian-only zones this summer, in anticipation of the busy tourist season. As Michelle Gomez reports, many businesses say they’re excited to see the change.

According to the city, the traffic-free zones will add a vital lifeline for struggling restaurants and bars which will be able to expand patios onto sidewalks and increase dining options.

However, business owners like Briscoe say they are not convinced.

“We are totally against it. I just don’t see how this benefits our community,” she said. 

To get more local businesses on board with the pilot project, the city said it has now waived fees for restaurants and stores to create new and expanded patios and merchandise displays and has also contributed $20,000 for the GBIS parking initiative. 


Posted in CBC