Plant store owner calls Burrard Bridge bike-lane trial "nail in the coffin"

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      The owner of a downtown business has described the arrival of the Burrard Bridge bike-lane trial as a “nail in the coffin”.

      Wim Vander Zalm, owner of Art Knapp Urban Garden (1401 Hornby Street), told the Straight his day-to-day sales this week are down from last year. He attributes this solely to the fact that, due to the trial that began on July 13, cars can no longer turn right onto Hornby from Pacific Street.

      “There are a lot of intricacies involved with a downtown operation,” Vander Zalm said via cellphone. “We live with it and it’s been good, but this might just be a nail in the coffin.”

      The store has been in business 35 years. Vander Zalm—son of former premier Bill Vander Zalm—said that, compared to last year, sales were down about 36 percent for July 13, 41 percent for July 14, and around 60 percent yesterday (July 15).

      “Our sales have been up for the year,” Vander Zalm said. “We were up almost five percent year, year-to-date, as of Friday. Now to be losing that much in the first three days is really a scary indication as to what might be long term. We’re worried, yeah. I can’t drop 10 percent. If I were to drop 10 percent in gross sales then that store becomes unprofitable for me, so I need to be very careful where things go.”

      Vander Zalm said he had a meeting with Mayor Gregor Robertson on July 15, and his concerns have been relayed to city staff to see whether adjustments can be made. According to Vander Zalm, allowing right turns at Hornby Street, even “for certain hours”, may be enough to keep him in business.

      “If they were to allow right turns for a portion of the day, that might be enough,” he said. “I don’t know for sure how much of a difference it will make. The majority of my business is done from the hours of noon to 5 or 6. That’s my retail hours. Depending on when they allow that right-hand turn lane, if it’s through those hours, it might be enough to change things so that I’m not in the situation I’m in now of having this major decline in sales.”

      Added Vander Zalm: “None of this really came across in the news, but I might be a casualty of maybe the betterment of the environment, the betterment of commuters, and the betterment of traffic flow, and I kind of accept that, but the big thing has been the lack of communication and consultation.”

      Vander Zalm and other merchants in the area, just south of Pacific Street, called a meeting two weeks before the trial began.

      “An engineer came out to meet with us to explain how a right-hand-lane turn would work,” Vander Zalm said. “In actual fact we weren’t concerned about trying to figure out how a no-right-hand-turn would work. We could kind of figure that out pretty easily. But how could we lessen the impact? We knew...the merchants knew that there was going to be impact. We figured up to maybe, worse-case scenario, 50 percent, and it’s kind of trending that way.”




      Jul 16, 2009 at 4:47pm

      I'm sure Mr Vander Zalm is telling the truth about the drop in business, but I would be very interested at how his sales for July 9, 10, 11, and 12 compare with the year before.

      Global recession, and all.

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      Vlad Mayzel

      Jul 16, 2009 at 11:29pm


      I think Mr Vander Zalm implied that the sales were NOT down for July 9, 10, 11, 12 compared to the last year and were consistent with his yearly trend as he described it: “Our sales have been up for the year”.

      Even stronger indication is “We were up almost five percent year, year-to-date, as of Friday".

      And the strongest is "Now to be losing that much in the FIRST THREE DAYS is really a scary indication". Since he specifically mentioned 3 days, he suggests that there were no such losses in the days prior to that.

      Vlad Mayzel,
      (another business owner coping with the nuisance)

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      Jul 17, 2009 at 12:50am

      As always people point the finger at something that has nothing to do with it. The bike lane trail is not the problem. His issue is with the closing of Hornby Street for cars. Let's stick to the real issue and not start blaming bike lane trial. So he needs to address the closing of Hornby Street with city hall.

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      David K

      Jul 17, 2009 at 2:26am

      Maybe the Bike Terrorists can initiate a twitter rally or naked bike ride and swing by Knap Urban Garden and buy plants to help support this green business (small plants because that's all they can carry without a car). The irony of a green business being put under for a green idea is perfect.

      Perhaps the city should figure out the loss of carbon scrubbing over future years after the business closes and purchase the appropriate carbon credits to replace it!

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      Jul 17, 2009 at 8:12am

      Canadian retail sales remained strong into 2009, but have since, following the pattern in the U.S., declined.

      And, as you know, sales fluctuate throughout the year. Maybe he had a strong April and May. Or not.

      All of which is to say he could land a knock-out punch if he released his sales figures from the week prior to the introduction of no-right hand turns on Hornby.

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      Jul 17, 2009 at 9:25am

      "Nail in the coffin" It sounds like Wim Vander Zalm has been nailed in the coffin for some while now. He has been claiming that the bike infrastructure will kill his business in the media for weeks prior to the opening of the protected bike path. It seems that this is his run to get the city to bail him out. Good luck with that Wim. But don't mess with cyclists. If we want to make this a scientific trial, maybe Wim could open up his books to auditors, so the effect of the bike path on his business can be properly asessed.

      The city has not closed access to Hornby nor has it taken away a single parking spot. Wim has no reason to complain.

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      Jul 17, 2009 at 11:05am

      Yet another example of how this mayor and council are only willing to consult with citizens AFTER they've made all the decisions for us. There is a disturbing pattern here that reeks of Moral Superiority.

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      Jul 17, 2009 at 4:30pm

      I've gone to Art Knapp's countless times and EVERY time, despite owning a car, I have WALKED there. I'm sure the lion's share of his clientele are from the neighborhood and walk there too. And if people know they plan to buy a large plant, then they will plan to drive there.

      Ever driven in Richmond? It's insane driving/parking in a such a busy area but people still do it. Methinks Wim protests too much.

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      Jul 31, 2009 at 8:43pm

      Tell Gregor to unblock the bridge - this is getting out of hand:

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