Mo Tarmohamed is out to the tune of roughly $60,000, if not more.
It’s not on account of a guys’ trip to Las Vegas, home renovations or a vehicle purchase.
It’s the price he pays to own a business in the Downtown Eastside.
Tarmohamed bought the Rickshaw Theatre in 2011, knowing full well its location just steps east of Main and Hastings could be bad for business.
He had little idea at the time that the area would deteriorate to the point it now has.
“It was somewhat tolerable before, but that’s because we’ve normalized it so much,” Tarmohamed said. “What’s tolerable to us, should not be tolerable. It was bad eight years ago, and even then I thought it wasn’t normal. Now it’s 10-fold worse.”
Tarmohamed estimates his 2018 losses were between $50,000 and $75,000, solely because bands don’t want to be in the area. Tarmohamed sees tours that landed at the Rickshaw in years past go elsewhere, typically to the Venue on Granville Street. In some cases, those tours won’t come to Vancouver at all.
Tarmohamed follows up with booking agents and promoters, asking why those shows aren’t coming. The reasons are almost always the same.
“The bands that do come here, they’re like a deer caught in the headlights. These are guys from Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit and New York who are saying, ‘Whoa, this is crazy,’” Tarmohamed said.
It doesn’t help his businesses that musicians the world over post videos and photos on social media of needles, feces and scores of people intoxicated in the immediate vicinity of his venue.
Last summer, a band loaded in the back alley of the Rickshaw as a drug user pretended to be playing darts — except the darts were needles and the dartboard was a telephone poll near the band’s tour van.
Hank Von Hell, former frontman of Norwegian rock band Turbonegro, played the Rickshaw in late August and was initially scheduled to perform somewhere between 60 to 80 minutes. Von Hell cut his set to 40 minutes so he could “get the hell out of the neighbourhood, not the venue,” according to Tarmohamed.
Tarmohamed’s property taxes have doubled since 2011, and he characterizes the value for service as “diminishing.” Condos built in the blocks around the venue over the last three years have exacerbated the problem, creating a cluster-like effect right outside his doors.
He doesn’t begrudge drug users themselves, but characterizes the response from the police and all levels of government as non-existent. Tarmohamed said he has stopped calling the city or VPD for assistance because they never show up.
“It feels like abandonment. It feels like they don’t really care about what goes on here,” Tarmohamed said. “They probably do at some level, but not enough to really do anything about it.”
There goes the neighbourhood
The Courier attempted to speak with as many Downtown Eastside promoters and venue owners to gauge what business and crowds are like in light of the deterioration of the DTES.
Management at the Smilin’ Buddah Cafe declined comment, as did MRG Concerts, which runs the Imperial. Both venues are a stone’s throw from Main and Hastings. Imperial general manager Peter Gordon provided the Courier with a brief statement that read, “I can only say that we strive to provide a great positive shareable experience to all of our guests.”
Everyone who agreed to an interview said business is down, but crime and violence are up substantially. Foot traffic is also on the decrease and young women in particular increasingly won’t travel to shows by themselves. Musicians from other countries who tour the world for a living are overwhelmed by what they see.
Wendythirteen has worked in music promotion for 20 years, having booked shows at numerous venues across the Downtown Eastside, many of which closed around the arrival of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
She now promotes gigs at Pats Pub near Hastings Street and Dunlevy Avenue, where a 50-year-old Surrey man was shot Sept. 22. Two more shootings in the DTES followed over the next 15 hours.
She was verbally attacked by a handful of young gang members while working at Pats the night before: words were exchanged, bottles were thrown and threats were made.
It’s in this context that Wendythirteen has seen the one of the biggest shifts in the neighbourhood over the last three years. She says a code that once existed even among hardened criminals and drug users — don’t use in front of kids, don’t steal in your own neighbourhood, leave the elderly alone — has vanished.
Wendythirteen suggests her attackers on Sept. 21 were likely all around the age of 20.
“I’m a tough girl, but there’s a lot of knives and machetes around these days,” she said. “The entitlement and the rudeness of the addict these days is beyond anything I’ve seen.”
Her crowds are decreasing, though hard numbers weren’t provided. Wendythirteen attributes those dips to two factors: young people leaving the city because of unaffordability and fear of the neighbourhood. Her punk and metal crowds aren’t as affected as the older people who take in jazz and blues gigs.
Owners of the Patricia Hotel, where Pat’s Pub is located, Daryl Nelson and his sister Lindsay Thomas appeared before the police board in mid-July, asking for help because of increased theft and violence in the area.
Jason Puder and Abelardo Mayoral-Fierros have 25 years’ worth of promoting between them, a span that’s seen the two Vancouverites bring more than 1,500 shows to Vancouver venues: the Rickshaw, Astoria, Pats Pub, Pub 340, Red Room and along the Granville Strip.
The majority of Puder’s bookings are at the Astoria, where thousands of dollars’ worth of musical equipment was stolen from a vehicle on Sept. 20. In mid-August, Puder witnessed a man ride his bike through a crowd outside the venue while shooting bear spray at everyone in the vicinity.
Three fires in surrounding properties happened around the same time.
Puder also organizes Western Canada’s largest metal, punk and hardcore gathering, the Modified Ghost Festival. The 2018 iteration was the festival’s most successful over its four-year run, drawing people from across the globe.
The five-day festival wasn’t 20 minutes old when someone tried to break into a tour bus parked next to the Rickshaw.
“The people that had weeklong passes — some from the States, some from Europe, some from other parts of Canada — they were totally mind boggled,” Puder said. “It’s one thing if you’re here for a night, it’s another if you’re in the area every night for five days.”
Mayoral-Fierros’ experiences in the area are largely the same. International bands usually revert to sarcasm and mockery when they arrive at venues to cover up their initial reticence to perform in the area.
It’s after that point that the difficult questions arise.
“First it’s shock,” he said. “Then the comments come around, ‘Why doesn’t someone do something about this?’”