One of the buildings in downtown Prince Rupert that has been empty for an extended period of time. (Quinn Bender / The Northern View)

One of the buildings in downtown Prince Rupert that has been empty for an extended period of time. (Quinn Bender / The Northern View)

Letter to the Editor: Wake up, Rupert!

Fran├žois Blanchet writes about the woes of small businesses in Prince Rupert

Wake up, Rupert! For many years Prince Rupert has been a thriving community with fishing and logging being at the forefront of the North Coast economy. The decline of these two resources has resulted in an obvious change and shift in money spending in Prince Rupert.

Being an outsider in this town and trying to be a part of the community has been a fun, yet a rather difficult task.

I wanted to be part of this community, so I joined ground Search and Rescue (GSAR), army rangers and volunteered time with different organizations. I’m so glad I did. I met the nicest people I have ever met, made awesome friends.

I love this place, the ocean air. I charter guide in the summer, my wife runs her own business and we still want to raise our family here, yet, I am reconsidering the idea of living here.

Today, I drive through the city looking at over 20 spaces for rent and wonder what went wrong.

READ MORE: Enough is enough — fine derelict-property owners, says Prince Rupert councillor

The fact that big companies were about to come and spend a lot of money in a small city has made building owners hungry for more money, often leaving buildings empty rather than having to deal with tenants and expensive repairs.

It seems like retailers thrived in the late 80s and into the 90s, selling products and locals helping the economy thrive by using services and buying products.

Landlords in town have made tremendous amounts of money by charging overinflated rent prices when the going was good.

Nowadays is it is very difficult for a small business owner to afford both rent and repairs in small spaces. Add a soon-to-be increase in minimum wages, rising costs of energy and difficulties getting competitive products will be driving the little guys even more to the ground.

Crime is up as well and lots of people are getting away with it. Petty crimes affect small businesses since the insurance premiums grow exponentially.

Every restaurant/retailer in Prince Rupert can tell you this: staffing is the hardest thing. It is an issue with many employees feeling entitled to their job since no one as qualified is there to replace them. We value the life-work balance but skilled workers also have ridiculous rents to pay in houses that are not well insulated or are mouldy.

After some LNG and other projects decided to not invest in Prince Rupert, we are looking at an astonishing number of established retailers in the city that have or will have to close their doors. Weird timing? Rents too high? What’s up?

All the small businesses in Prince Rupert are slowly dying. It does not take much knowledge to see what is going on. We now partially rely on the internet to provide us with goods where, again, retailers are on the wrong side of the fence.

Little “clicks” are everywhere and Prince Rupert is no different, sadly the landlords and decisions makers that already made tons of money with their buildings are still charging way too much and making business owners responsible for amenities and repairing spaces that are close to 100 years old.

Reality sinks in with no retailers comes no rentals and the decay of buildings along with a crime increase becomes more apparent.

I have inquired to lease many buildings — old KFC is the best example — and been told after I spend $200K in repairs, I have to pay $1,500 a month.

So five established retailers close down in a year and nobody feels like something is terribly wrong?

For people who have lived their whole life in Rupert, it seems like the money that was made in the old days is slowly running out, driving people to spend wisely at the big retail outlets or on the internet to save a few bucks. We all do it! It’s OK!

But let’s think about the smaller guys, too. They open every day and are proud of what they offer and have to sell products for a bit more to justify paying good wages and offer a quality product.

Going to the shoe store to try a pair on for size and then buying it online is disgraceful but we all do it.

So yes, Rupert, you are slowly falling apart, with dangerous buildings trying to be sold for profit since nobody wants to deal with upgrades.

It is only a matter of time before the winter business becomes nonexistent with summer tourism not quite cutting it to make up for it either.

It is a sad time to be a small business owner in Prince Rupert.

READ MORE: Home value on the rise in Rupert

François Blanchet

Prince Rupert

Letter to the Editor