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Keeping businesses in business

RMOW, Chamber looking at ways to reduce tax, rent burdens on local businesses

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You wouldn’t know it by the summer crowds in the village, but Whistler businesses are still in a tight spot financially. Overall, profits are still down or flat for many business owners, as the tourism industry as a whole is still affected by a sluggish economy, a higher dollar, rising airline costs, terrorism fears, and cutthroat competition between destination markets.

Locally, businesses also have to contend with highway construction, village construction and Whistler’s reputation as an expensive place to visit.

At the same time operating costs are continuing to grow for Whistler businesses, which are already paying similar rents to the most high-profile shopping areas in Vancouver.

With their bottom line shrinking, businesses are looking to the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the Whistler Chamber of Commerce for relief. For their part, the RMOW is currently looking at tax relief options for businesses, as well as the creation of restricted shopping areas similar to staff-restricted housing. The Whistler Chamber of Commerce is putting together a database for businesses and landlords to help them understand their legal obligations and ensure that rents are fair.

For business owners, these changes can’t come quickly enough – they believe that business will get better, they just want to still be in business when it does.

"If the municipality doesn’t do something to help to control rent and taxes, this town will lose its culture, all the little shops and stores that make this place unique. In a few years it’s all going to be big chain stores," said Jenine Bourbonnais, the owner of Evolution, a local bike, skate and snowboard shop.

"The town must have faith in its own authenticity that is derived from its citizens, not its corporate partners. People come to Whistler to witness the eclectic mix of people living an outdoor, activity-rich lifestyle, they do not come to Whistler to see a candy-coated resort mini mall of mega brands set in the mountains.

"I’m just curious to know what the muni’s direction is, what their vision is for the future. We talk about making it sustainable for residents, but I’d like to see them make it sustainable for businesses as well."

Bourbonnais says her operating costs are already approximately $8,000 a month during the summer for her main shop and the repair shop.

At the same time her business has been surrounded by construction projects for more than three years with the conference centre renovation, the renovation at Tapley’s, the renovation of Village Square, and now the renovation to her own building.

Rent is about 60 per cent of her total costs and most of the remaining costs are her "triple net" expenses – property taxes, strata fees, Tourism Whistler fees, insurance, maintenance, etc.

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