“I’m an honest guy. I’ve been here 34 years,” said Central Motors owner Jeremy Thorp.
But Thorp said unless he can work out a better deal with his new landlord or find a new location for his repair shop in a hurry, he’ll have to close up in September. So far, finding a new space isn’t looking hopeful.
“There’s no other space around here to put an automotive shop,” he said.
Thorp said new rents recently put forward by the new owners were significantly higher than what he’s currently paying.
“I told him I can’t pay that kind of rent,” said Thorp.
Thorp isn’t alone.
Tyler Pearson, owner of Deep Cove Music in the same block, says he’s also been informed of a significant rent increase.
In his case, the amount being asked is about five times what he currently pays, said Pearson. “I’m hoping we can negotiate something,” he said, but added he’s not feeling overly optimistic.
“It’s not financially possible to stay with the amount of money they’re asking.”
The commercial block, at the corner of Deep Cove Road and Mount Seymour Parkway, has been a part of the community for 90 years.
District of North Vancouver Coun. Lisa Muri’s dad used to own part of the property, where he ran a hardware store.
Until recently, Darwin Properties owned the block and had planned to build townhouse units on the site while moving existing tenants to a new commercial/industrial "innovation district" in Maplewood.
But when that project was essentially put on hold by the District of North Vancouver council, Darwin opted to sell the Deep Cove parcel. "We believe in the community, but we needed more municipal support to move forward with our vision," said Darwin president Oliver Webbe in a statement.
A recent sale is expected to complete in August.
While Darwin held on to the property, commercial tenants were on month-to-month leases. Now they are facing sudden and significant rent increases if they want to stay in business.
While the property deal has yet to finalize, West Vancouver business owner Steve Lippman is said to be the person behind the purchase by a numbered company.
Matt Thomas, a commercial real estate agent with Avison Young who represents the new owner, said he’s been painted in an unfair light.
“The new owner is the only person who is trying to save the building” instead of redeveloping the property, he said.
But years with little maintenance means significant dollars have to be spent, he said.
“The building has holes in the floors. There were buckets everywhere on a rainy day. The building needs a ton of work. This owner is planning to clean it up.”
Thomas said to make that investment, the owner needs to charge market rent – something the existing businesses have not been paying.
Thomas said the owner isn’t planning to charge more than other commercial landlords in the area, but acknowledged for existing tenants “who have been getting a good deal,” it is a significant increase.
So far there is no word on whether the long-standing Raven Pub will be staying.
Another possibility that has not been finalized is that a daycare operator may move into one of the commercial spaces.
Muri said if Central Motors and other local businesses are forced out, it would represent a loss for the community.
Those types of local businesses have always managed to survive in the past, she said.
“When a new landlord comes in, they know the rent is going to go up. They just didn’t expect to pay this much more,” she said. “It’s all about the economics of land value and what you can get.”
Typically, rents are one of the ways that commercial properties are valued, so when rents go up, so does the value of the land.
Muri said while the municipality has little power to regulate landlord-tenant issues, she thinks the province should be playing a bigger role in regulating commercial rents in the same way it does for residential properties.
“Those mechanics are paid a good wage to work there,” she said. “Business is struggling. Government needs to step forward and support them.”