Friday, July 30, 2010

Brentwood Station needs diversity of mom-and-pop shops

If you walk or drive through the Brentwood neighbourhood near Willingdon Ave and Lougheed Hwy at around 8pm on a Friday evening, you will see that the sidewalks are nearly devoid of people and that most of the businesses are either already closed or near closing for the day. With a major SkyTrain station and bus loop merely steps away, it is surprising that very little streetlife exists at Lougheed and Willindgon and outwards from there. With the exception of the strip mall complex featuring Miki Sushi, Fat Burger, and a soon-to-open Starbucks just west of the Petro Canada gas station, there are no businesses to draw the locals out from the surrounding residential neighbourhoods or from their cars as they drive through Brentwood. It certainly isn't anything like the Burnaby Heights district along Hastings St between Willingdon Ave and Boundary Rd. where a diversity of restaurants and retail businesses line the street. To make sidewalks even more appealing than as mentioned in my previous post (Appealing Sidewalks...), the right combination of amenities are required to bring out the pedestrians that currently don't have reason to frequent the area around Brentwood Station.
What does an area need to attract more people to its sidewalks? Although the area is slowly beginning to attract businesses, it has a ways to go.

Currently the only places open late are Save-on-Foods and a few major chain restaurants dispersed over a wide area between Willingdon Ave and Boundary Rd. What is needed is different types of shops to bring out different types of consumers, particularly 'mom and pop' shops that offer a variety of goods and services at the street level dispersed among the restaurants and cafes. Unfortunately, as older buildings are torn down and replaced with newer ones over time, the retail space that was once affordable for local independent businesses becomes even more scarce. When this occurs, 'mom and pop' shops are either forced to move away, or close down for good. What consumers are left with are the "cookie-cutter" chain stores that provide "cookie-cutter" goods and services. The newer retail space is usually built to a standard minimum size which is unaffordable for an independent entrepreneur with a great business idea but lacking a corporate-sized pocketbook.

Fortunately, this does not have to be the case every time a new retail development is built. Crystal Mall in the Metrotown area of Burnaby is a terrific example of a retail complex that houses a diverse range of primarily independent businesses. The retail and office spaces in this complex are not built to standard size, but range from smaller sized units to the standard larger sizes. The smaller space has attracted a variety of shops that offer specialty goods and services that would not otherwise be available in the usual chain stores that dominate our retail landscape. If I want to watch Asian movies or TV dramas, I won't find them at Rogers Video, but at Crystal Media in Crystal Mall. If I want to buy specialty Asian-style pastries or cakes, I would find them in one of the shops in Crystal Mall, not at Safeway. It is this type of retail space, at street level instead of an indoor mall-like setting, that would encourage businesses that are able to meet the specific needs of a diverse range of consumers.

In my opinion, the following types of businesses would bring life to the area both day and night:

-Asian or European-style tea or coffee shops
-small independent bars or taverns
-specialty dessert cafes or bakeries
-karaoke parlours
-non-chain restaurants to add to the flavour of existing chain restaurants
-specialty food stores
-convenience store that isn't a cookie-cutter gas station store (7-11 or Mac's would suffice)
-specialty meat or fish shop

I hope that someday I can walk around the Brentwood area and be entertained by a variety of retail businesses. As the area around Brentwood Station continues to develop and grow, I hope it will encourage independent businesses to become established and grow with it.