For more than 25 years, Alan Boysen has operated his cookie shop in the downtown Harbour Centre mall.
By the end of next week, his customers will have to go elsewhere after he and at least a dozen other food businesses are being forced out of the mall because of redevelopment.
“They’re turning my store into air — they’re building an atrium,” said Boysen, who will shut down Cookies of Course March 28 and attempt to make a go of selling his cookie dough to cafes and restaurants.
The floor below Boysen’s shop is the food court where a dozen businesses received the same notice in the fall from Harbour Centre Complex Limited announcing the redevelopment.
Though the area of Boysen’s shop will become “a galleria,” the food court will get an entire overhaul, according to an email the company sent to the Courier.
Harbour Centre Complex said it wants to bring “a refreshed dining and shopping experience” to customers and offer “a more contemporary and welcoming experience.”
Current vendors can re-apply to move back in the mall but need to demonstrate in their leasing proposals they will “adhere to the updated design standards that all vendors will be required to meet and maintain in the upgraded spaces,” the email said.
The Courier asked the company whether renovations meant an increase in lease payments and additional construction costs for vendors but was told “we do not disclose details of our lease agreements with our tenants.”
Boysen, who pays $4,500 a month in rent, said he was told by a mall manager the company’s redevelopment plan is to only have major recognized chain stores in the mall. It already has a Quizno’s and a Taco Del Mar in the food court and a Tim Horton’s on the west side of the mall.
“They told me they don’t want independents anymore, they said I can apply [to move back in] but I have to be prepared to spend $300,000 on my unit,” he said. “There’s no way I could do that.”
At Bali Thai in the food court, owner Linda Lesmana and husband Tommy were preparing for another lunchtime crowd Monday as they counted down the days until they shut down.
The couple opened their business less than two years ago and Linda said there was no indication from the company the food court would be renovated.
“We’re very upset about this,” said Linda, noting she and her husband invested “a lot of money” in setting up the business.
The couple is still unsure if they will re-apply to move back in, knowing it will likely mean increased rent and costs for renovations.
Calvin Kwok, a customer at Bali Thai, said he visits the food court two to three times per week. He could go to other food courts in the neighbourhood but said he prefers Harbour Centre because of its variety of good and reasonably priced food.
“I don’t understand why they’re getting rid of these places when they have plenty of customers,” said Kwok, a consultant at a VanCity credit union. “If they are going to put major chains in here, I won’t be coming here. There are already enough of those stores in the area.”
The redevelopment caught the attention of Simon Fraser University students Felipe Rodriguez-Flores and Angie Natingor, who helped organize a petition to keep the current vendors — at the same lease fees — in the food court.
SFU is one of the major tenants of Harbour Centre, along with an office tower and the popular revolving restaurant atop the building. The building houses 5,000 office workers, students and faculty, according to Harbour Centre Complex Limited.
“Relationships which have been established between these vendors, Simon Fraser University-Harbour Centre, and locals who frequent the food court stand to be lost as a result of the redevelopment,” the students’ petition says. “The new businesses, likely to be big and pervasive food chains, will substantively alter the community and destroy the unique character of our food court.”
The students, who attend the SFU’s school of public policy, say more than 1,000 people signed the PETITION, which is online and circulated in hard copy form at many of the businesses. The students are promoting an “eat-in” at the food court Thursday at noon.
“We know they have plans for the building but from my understanding they haven’t decided which companies are going to be in the food court so they could still choose to give priority to the vendors who are already here,” Rodriguez-Flores said.
The Soup Zone is at least one business that will relocate to Bentall Centre in the 500-block Burrard Street. A woman working behind the counter, who didn’t want to give her name, said Soup Zone is “one of the lucky ones” for being able to relocate.
Other businesses in the food court include Little Japan, Curry Fusion, Le Viet and Sushi Harbour. All businesses given notice about the redevelopment must vacate by March 31.
The food court made headlines in March 2012 after a Vancouver police officer was allegedly stabbed in the leg by a despondent restaurant owner, who was protesting the mall’s first phase of evictions on the other side of the food court.
At the time, the owner’s son Joseph Ahn, told CBC news that his father’s protest was an attempt to stand up for himself. He also disputed the police report, saying his father would never stab anyone.
“This is my father’s retirement, it’s his own business, he’s losing it,” Ahn told the CBC. “He’s not even getting an opportunity to sell it or anything like that.”