The 2010 Games will benefit giant corporations, but the event will create huge hassles for some owners of small businesses.
The Olympic Games were supposed to be good news for Carolyn Larbi. One of her customers owns 45 condo units that will house journalists covering the Games. That’s a lot of linen and whatnots that require cleaning. And that’s a lot of business for the jolly mother of three, who co-owns with her husband, Jack, the Swan Laundry at 1352 Burrard Street. But there’s one big wrinkle.
Larbi’s bright, pink-daubed shop is located on an Olympic lane. From February 4 to March 1 next year, street parking and deliveries will not be allowed on Burrard in much of the downtown core. Stretching from Pacific Street at the northern foot of the Burrard Bridge to Pender Street, the restriction will be in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It’s one of eight dedicated Olympic routes in the city, which form part of the transportation plan unveiled by Games organizers on October 14. The others are Seymour Street, from the Granville Bridge to Hastings Street; Howe Street, from Hastings to the Granville Bridge; Pender Street, from Cambie Street to Howe; Cambie, from the Cambie Bridge to 59th Avenue; Broadway, from Arbutus Street to Commercial Drive; Georgia Street, from Richards Street to the Stanley Park Causeway; and Hastings, from Seymour to Boundary Road.
For businesses with a back lane, deliveries aren’t going to be a problem. But this isn’t the case for shops like Larbi’s, and the 10 other stores in the 1300 block of Burrard Street.
“So how is she bringing bedding and pillows and blankets in the rain in February, in the cold, if she’s not able to stop?” Larbi asked in a weekend interview with the Georgia Straight amid the drone of washers and dryers.
She has no immediate answer. But she hopes the city can arrange something with the shop owners in the area.
“It’s not fair!” Larbi protested. “I’m sure we’ll make it work, but you’re cutting off our customers with large loads. You’re going to take business away. And I thought the Olympics was for the city to be excited about. Ninety percent of my customers that come into my shop are very negative because they can’t get to work, they can’t get around.”
Next door to the Swan Laundry is a UPS store that opened late last year. Its boyish-looking co-owner, Jordan Bibbs, proudly related that the shop has generated the highest volume of first-year sales ever among the 63 UPS stores in B.C. For this, the owners will be receiving an award.
With the parking and stopping restrictions next year, Bibbs expects a slowdown in business. “Yesterday we actually shipped out a 250-pound crate that was 40 inches tall, 46 inches long, and 26 inches wide,” Bibbs told the Straight on October 24. “If someone can’t drop that off in a vehicle, we won’t be able to ship it.”
Three doors away from Bibbs’s UPS store, hardware retailer Abbas Bouzhmehrani bantered with a customer who’d walked into his A & V Home Centre. “How can I make money from a beautiful lady like you?” the Iranian immigrant asked with a wide grin from a crowded counter overflowing with light switches for stocking.
The smile quickly faded when he started talking about how he may lose business when the 2010 Games come.
“Olympic is very good,” Bouzhmehrani told the Straight. “All of the people, they like that. And we like too. But if we have some problem like we don’t have a business, what should we do?”
That’s not all. Nobody from the city has talked to them, the merchant claimed. “For big business, everything is good,” he added. “For small business, nothing is good.”
Charles Gauthier is the executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. He is aware of the predicament of shop owners in the 1300 block of Burrard.
“I suggested to the city temporary 15-minute loading and unloading on these types of businesses,” Gauthier told the Straight.
Since the Olympic transportation plan was disclosed on October 14, Gauthier has been busy making presentations to groups of businesspeople, offering tips on how they can run their operations smoothly during the Games. His group, which is supportive of the sporting event, has also prepared a business readiness guide.
Last summer, John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, wrote business owners, asking them to help keep traffic to a minimum during the Games. Furlong made a number of suggestions, which include allowing employees to work from home.
For its part, the City of Vancouver is encouraging businesses to plan their deliveries between midnight and 6 a.m. February 1 to February 28 to avoid traffic congestion. If deliveries can’t be made before 6 a.m., the next preferred time is before noon.
“Now is the time to start developing your business continuity plan,” Gauthier suggested. This includes adopting flexible hours and preordering nonperishable supplies like paper. Some businesses, the DVBIA executive noted, have started transferring some of their operations to satellite offices outside Vancouver.
As early as November 1 this year, the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit will start closing streets. Road closures will affect the busy Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, which are going to be shut down from February 5 to March 2, 2010.
Abbas Bouzhmehrani wonders why nobody from the city talked to him.
Vehicle traffic will be restricted as well on major thoroughfares that will be designated as pedestrian corridors from noon to midnight from February 12 to February 28. These are Granville between Smithe and Cordova streets; Robson Street between Bute and Beatty streets; the Hamilton/Mainland corridor between David Lam Park and Georgia Street; and Beatty between Smithe and Dunsmuir streets.
Gauthier noted that although Downtown Vancouver businesses are facing challenges, many are planning celebratory activities with the increased foot traffic.
On the east side of town, more than 200 workers at the Hastings Racecourse face the prospect of losing their jobs for one month during the Games. The racetrack is being closed as a result of a 2007 operating agreement between the City of Vancouver and Hastings Entertainment Inc., which is a tenant in the protected Olympic zone. The agreement gives Olympic officials the right to shut down the racetrack due to security concerns. The gaming area is adjacent to the Pacific Coliseum, site of the figure skating and short-track speed skating events.
In addition to this, the workers’ contract with the Hastings Racecourse expired on July 31, 2008.
On October 23, 74 percent of the workers represented by Local 378 of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union decisively voted in favour of a strike as negotiations stalled on the issue of layoffs during the Olympics.
This raises the possibility of picket lines in the vicinity of the Pacific Coliseum during the Games, a situation that will likely not sit well with Vanoc and its partners, including the International Olympic Committee.
“The time line leads to the very real possibility that job action could be taken during the Olympic period,” COPE 378 spokesperson Mike Bruce told the Straight. “No one wants to be out of work and out of a job during this time of celebration. We have been trying to work on this issue for months. Hastings isn’t interested. But of course we hope that we can avoid pickets going up right beside a major Olympic venue.”
This isn’t the only Olympics-related issue that COPE 378 is involved in.
On October 30, Olympic sponsor ICBC and its workers will go to arbitration over increased workloads for employees who aren’t volunteering for the Olympics, and the cancellation of vacation leaves during the Games.
“One of the suggestions we made, and offered to help facilitate, was that ICBC backfill affected positions during the Olympics in order to manage workload and facilitate the ability of members to volunteer during the games,” COPE 378 stated in an update posted on its Web site. “ICBC categorically rejected this idea. Instead, the corporation just wants to place restrictions on other members, and increase workload. At the same time, they also want to place unfair blanket restrictions on vacation entitlement and refuse to allow people to take the time off that they have earned.”
Starting at the end of January next year, East Side Vancouver residents will not be able to use the ice rink at the Britannia Community Services Centre. The facility will be handed over to Vanoc for hockey practice.
The ice rink will be fenced off, and Vanoc will take more than 40 percent of the parking spaces for the community centre. There will be some changes in the traffic flow.
“There’s not a lot of rink availability [in the city],” Cynthia Low, the centre’s executive director, told the Straight. “Obviously, there will be other activities. We will be hosting a number of aquatic events, as well as other recreational events to supplement the rink loss.”
A number of residents in the area have opposed the use of the Britannia ice rink for the Games due to concerns over security arrangements that will be put in place by VISU.
However, Low asserted that since the arena is at the far north end of the centre, all other facilities—the swimming pool, gymnasium, library, fitness centre, two daycares, and elementary and secondary schools—are not affected. “Access won’t be closed off at all,” she said.
Residents near the Killarney and Trout Lake community ice rinks in Vancouver will also see some changes in their areas in terms of security. The two facilities will be used as practice venues for figure skating and short-track speed skating during the 2010 Games.
On January 16 this year, the B.C. Ministry of Finance issued a statement disputing claims that the Games are an economic risk for the province. It maintained that the Olympics constitute a “substantial economic advantage for B.C. communities and businesses”.
The Finance Ministry has claimed that overall Olympic spending represents $4 billion in economic benefits, with Vanoc spending $1.3 billion this year alone. It has also maintained that three billion people worldwide will watch the Games, providing a tremendous opportunity to market the province.
This kind of trumpeting sounds hollow to Abraham Fraser, a locations manager who has been in the film industry for 27 years.
“Even in the lead-up right now, there’s a lot of productions that are steering clear of Vancouver because of the amount of obstacles that they’ll have to jump just to do any kind of prepping, [and] filming,” Fraser told the Straight. “Very few permits will be issued in the city of Vancouver, if any at all, during that two- or three-week period. I can’t name them, but I certainly know of a couple of productions specifically that are postponing their arrival here until the fall of next year as opposed to coming now.”
For Fraser, who does freelance work and employs a number of office and location staff, this will hurt.
“I’ll be losing a minimum of $10,000 a month—December, January, and February,” he said. “This time last year, I worked all the way through December, January, February, no problem.”
Fraser noted that the B.C. Film Commission requires production companies to provide businesses affected by filming activities a loss-of-income form to facilitate payment for lost revenues. On October 22, he provided the B.C. Federation of Labour with a copy of a modified form that is addressed to Vanoc as a joke, although he said he’ll sign one if ever such a document gets circulated through groups like the Directors Guild of Canada, of which he is a member.
“I’ve always known it’s going to be a problem,” Fraser said about the Games. “I’ve always known it’s going to cost the province money. I’ve always known it’s going to cost us money. I’ve always known it’s going to be in the way. It’s only as you get really close to it that you see their parking plans, their security plans, and all that kind of stuff that you realize that there’s no negotiating here. We’re going to be shut down. This is a complete shutdown.”
And judging from the reaction of merchants in the 1300 block of Burrard Street, he’s not the only one with these sentiments.