Homeless in Vancouver: South Granville Williams-Sonoma store gets new lease on life—not closing after all

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      The Williams-Sonoma store at 2903 Granville Street is no longer closing at the end of January, according to a store manager reached by phone Tuesday morning (December 31).

      In early December the California-based kitchen and cookware chain announced that it would not be renewing the lease on its 12-year-old South Granville location (the only one in British Columbia) at the end of January 2020.

      The news—closely following other announced closures of longtime South Granville retailers Plum ClothingOuisi Bistro, and West Restaurant—was seen as more evidence that the West Side shopping street was hemorrhaging tenants, due to sky-high commercial leases.

      However, South Granville’s Williams-Sonoma store, at least, has been granted a last-minute reprieve in the form of a more reasonable lease increase, a Fairview resident has told me.

      This resident explained that just before Christmas they were told by Williams-Sonoma staff that the South Granville store was no longer closing at the end of January 2020. The owner of 2903 Granville Street had approached the store with an offer of a lower lease renewal and the store had accepted the offer.

      All the store manager I spoke to Tuesday would confirm, however, was that the store would not be closing at the end of January. For more information I was directed to contact the store’s head office.

      High lease rates and rampant redevelopment

      The empty storefront at 2312 South Granville, seen December 22, with its honest “For Lease” sign citing “insane property tax”.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The South Granville Business Improvement Area’s own website lists 12 separate retail addresses for lease. This is nearly 7 percent of the 180 retail business addresses that line both sides of the 10 blocks' worth of shopping street.

      But, on the evening of December 22, I decided to conduct my own impromptu count of retail storefronts along South Granville—active and otherwise.

      Of the 180 retail storefronts I counted, 16 were empty with visible “For Lease” signs. This works out to an 8.8 percent vacancy rate.

      Depending who you talk to, a “healthy” retail vacancy rate for a shopping street like South Granville is somewhere between 4 and 6 percent.

      Commercial Drive, for example, currently has a vacancy rate below 5 percent, according to an East Vancouver blogger who has been monitoring the retail situation of the eclectic shopping street for over eight years.

      The former Ouisi Bistro at 3014 Granville—soon to be the Breakfast Table.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      In addition to the 16 vacant South Granville store fronts I counted for lease, I also noted that another five were papered over: two were waiting on approval of applications to open as cannabis dispensaries and three were in mid-renovation for new tenants.

      One of the three was at 3014 Granville—former location of the Ouisi Bistro.

      This address is currently being refitted to serve as the new location of the Breakfast Table restaurant—shortly to vacate 1465 West Broadway, so the property can be demolished for redevelopment as (among other things) an office building-slash-subway station entrance.

      Active ground-floor retail in some apparent “condo bait” in the 2300 block of Granville Street.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Among the 164 active South Granville store fronts I counted, five were in a property in the 2300 block that was otherwise empty and plastered with “For Sale” signs. I count these as slated for demolition—soon to join the other storefronts in the 2300 block demolished in October to make way for a large condo redevelopment.

      And if today I can remove Williams-Sonoma from the list of retail tenants fleeing South Granville I also have to add the Ramin & Sons Antique Furniture store.

      Staff of Ramin & Sons, at 2250 Granville, seen loading stock into one of their cars.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      On the evening of December 22, I watched as staff of the antique store at 2250 Granville carted load after load of inventory out of the store and into a car.

      When I inquired, staff told me that they were clearing stock in advance of the store closing when its lease expires. This would be in about four months time I was told. The reason I was given was “retirement”.

      And this is as good a time as any to mention that the Blenz Coffee, located on the high-traffic southeast corner of South Granville and West Broadway, is up for sale.

      The Blenz Coffee on the southeast corner of West Broadway and Granville.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      listing for Blenz Coffee at 2506 South Granville, with an asking price of $350,000 for the business, has been online since November 1, 2019.

      The offer to sell may not be especially indicative of a worsening business climate on the street as a whole.

      This location of the national Blenz Coffee chain has operated on this corner for over 15 years. But the business has changed operators several times. The current franchisee who is trying to sell has only operated this location for the last eight years.

      At the same time, the business climate of the neighbouring corners that surround the coffee shop looks none too healthy.

      The northeast corner of the intersection is occupied by the empty and soon-to-be-demolished hulk of 1489 West Broadway (also to make way for the aforementioned redevelopment, for which 1465 West Broadway is being knocked down).

      And the northwest corner is occupied by 2447 Granville—a storefront that has not seen a retail tenant since Lens & Shutter left last December.

      Clearly the intersection with West Broadway—like the rest of South Granville—is going through some tough times, business-wise.

      Don’t let the Christmas decorations fool you: 2447 Granville is still waiting for new retail tenant, let alone a visit from Santa.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine