Independents Thriving on Granville St-Pt3

This article is part of a series of case studies produced by LOCO for the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Area (DVBIA). We have been working with the DVBIA since December 2016 to assess the issues with empty retail storefronts on Granville Street, understand the affordability and other issues, and ensure that independent businesses stay part of the retail mix in downtown Vancouver.

SMAK 

“The DVBIA’s research helped convince the leasing agent to choose us over a chain.” – Brendan Ladner, Owner, SMAK Fast Food

Local fast food company SMAK opened its second Vancouver location on Granville Street in August 2016. SMAK serves up healthy fast food to downtown Vancouver’s lunch time office crowds, but are open all day from breakfast until late night (6am to 10pm). SMAK has a well-heeled, health conscious clientele, and feels they are drawing some of the workers in new tech-company offices (Microsoft, ACL) in the area.  

Opportunities & Challenges

Rents are generally much higher north of Robson, and although SMAK secured a great space, owner Brendan Ladner finds the rent high. But since there were “a lineup of businesses behind us hoping to secure the real estate we got on Granville Street”, Ladner says they feel lucky to have secured a location north of Robson. He did it with the help of a local retail strategist providing support in negotiations with leasing agents.

SMAK has been grappling with the same challenges as other businesses on the street – panhandling, homelessness, and the mess created by late night bar crowds. While fitting out their space, they were also challenged by long wait times for permits and a lack of transparency on municipal rules, causing delays and driving up costs.

Ladner thinks the opportunity for breathing new life into Granville Street is to completely redo some of the dead zones and build something completely new. He thinks that opportunity exists right now in some of the multi-level retail spaces available in the 900 block of Granville. He’d love to see some ambitious tenants create an exciting destination in the area, like a big craft brewery. He also thinks that bike lanes and patios right to the curb would help facilitate the changes the neighbourhood needs, bringing new life, new customers and better use of public space to Granville.  

Success

SMAK’s Granville location is experiencing above average sales compared to their Pender Street location. They also feel fortunate to have a locally based landlord who cares about their offering and aesthetic, adding them to a mix of businesses that will continue to build good foot traffic in the area. They are also thankful for the support that the DVBIA has offered to help them grow. Consumer research outlining the wants/needs of downtown consumers provided by the DVBIA helped them sway leasing agents to choose SMAK over a chain restaurant in their negotiations for their new location on Howe Street.

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