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National chains coming to Whistler for the long term

Olympics providing opportunity, but resort's continued success keeps retailers going




When the Olympic Games were awarded in 2003 many thought landlords would jack up the rents so high that only name brand chain stores could afford to lease space in Whistler.

In fact that never happened, and when the global recession hit 18 months ago the rental market became even more attractive.

And while there are new name brands and national chains opening in Whistler in time for the Olympics, it is the heightened awareness of Whistler, nationally and internationally, that has prompted many to make the decision to open stores here.

"The national chains are a fact of life and that will continue to occur, Olympics or not, in that they have the structure and the resources to withstand the deep seasonality that Whistler delivers," said Drew Meredith of the municipality's Business Enhancement Committee.

Meredith believes the village will maintain, for the most part, the look it has now. The focus in the future, he said, should be on raising occupancy and helping businesses in place draw in more customers.

He welcomes the focus the Games will put on Whistler and its neighbours.

"Just look at the spotlight that will be shone on this corridor," said Meredith. "It will be enormous."

The Bread Garden, Vancouver's original bakery café, recently opened in Whistler.

"Our goal has always been to open up in Whistler," said Zip Dhanani, president and CEO of the company.

The Bread Garden had been eying Whistler for about four years but it wasn't until the right location became available at a reasonable lease rate that the company moved in.

"Honestly, the Olympics are a bonus. But we are not (in Whistler) just for the Olympic Games. We have signed a 20-year lease and we intend to be there for the long term."

But Olympic opportunities are on the horizon. Bread Garden will be providing food service to NBC staff while they are in Whistler.

And there is no doubt the Games will raise the profile of the company, which opened its newest franchise in Australia in June.

"Visitors will be here from all over the world, so it does give us a higher profile being in this location," said Dhanani.

Some restaurant spaces are being rented by different nations at Games time and will be used as hospitality areas. But so far only one pop-up Olympic store has been announced: the Victorinox Swiss Army retail store will move into Keir Fine Jewellery's location. The store will be a first in North America for the 125-year-old company.

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