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Rising rent too costly for Canmore Dollar Store to bargain for

Are the days of getting a discount in downtown dead?

CANMORE – Canmore is losing its “mini Walmart” after rent prices became too expensive for the Main Street staple to survive, according to its owner.

The Great Canadian Dollar Store's doors are closing in February, and owner Gayleen Connelly can't help but feel frustrated that she is being pushed out of the prime downtown location where she has operated for the past 14 years.

“It was a lot of good things before three years ago and all of the sudden it was a complete 90 degree turn and I felt like I got screwed," Connelly said. "I don’t know if that was [the landlord's] intention, but that’s how it has come out."

At the downtown discount store, customers visit regularly to buy a wide range of cheaper items. But one price tag has become too costly to bargain on for the last remaining dollar store in the Bow Valley.

“We’re not closing because we don’t have customers – we do, and we can survive at the right [rent] price, but [the landlord] has priced us out now, so we cannot survive on the street any longer," said Connelly.

The bane of the Main Street dollar store started three years ago, when Connelly alleges she was handed a 34 per cent increase in rent, and was told another increase would be on its way in February 2021.

"The rent is too expensive for a store like mine," Connelly said. "Maybe a different type of store can pay that, but I cannot. A store like mine is valuable to the community, but no one wants to drop rent to allow a store like that to stay."

Finding a new space with cheaper rent in Canmore during that time was next to impossible, she said. So, she waited until the lease ran out, cutting costs everywhere. In 2018, she employed 12 staff members, but that number has since dwindled to five. She added there were times over the past three years that it was necessary for her to withdraw funds from her Registered Retirement Savings Plan to make rent.

“I have tried to do every darn thing I can to keep my costs down,” said Connelly.

The small business owner was a tenant of the now Spurline Investments for 12 years and said she’s been a good tenant.

The previous landlords, which included Dave Neish of Spurline Investments, had decreased the dollar store's original rent of $27 per square foot for eight years prior to 2018, said Connelly. But for the past three years she paid just under $38 per sq. ft. in the 5,000 sq. ft. space.

She added the dollar store is a volume business and not a profit-margin business, and relies on business from locals and tourists.

The downtown building is subject to renovations, according to Connelly, so she would have been out of the space for a while, anyway.

Neish said he thinks it will be divided in two units, but “nothing is finalized.”

He added other businesses are interested in taking over the lease, which would be “a lot better than the dollar store.”

“I think it will help downtown Canmore. It’s one building that has had hardly anything done to it and we want to [give it] more of a Canmore cosmopolitan idea to the structure,” said Neish.

The Outlook asked about the dollar store rent increases, but Neish did not respond.

Following the initial phone call, the Outlook and Neish set up an interview, which was cancelled by Spurline Investments. A representative said the company had no further comment on the matter.

Shawn Biggings, a broker and president of Commercial Real Estate Services,  said the common rate for new commercial leasing on Canmore's premium Main Street has been between $38 to $48 per sq. ft. over the past few years. In some cases for smaller shops, it could range around $50 per sq. ft.

Even during the pandemic, when many have closed their wallets and tightened spending habits, Canmore's commercial leasing market remains "quite competitive."

"Some space doesn't even ever hit the market because people are banging on doors, looking for spaces," said Biggings, who has nearly four decades of experience in the commercial real estate industry. 

"Our rates in 25 years have probably doubled, but that’s not an outrageous number in that many years.

"There have been lots of lease renewals in the last year, as well ... the landlords are going to know what the tenant is paying and what the landlord feels is reasonable. There's going to be lots of people way below those market numbers."

For Connelly, packing up and moving out is a situation she's faced before with a previous business in the mountain resort town. In 2019, she shut down her dollar store on Bear Street in Banff after a new owner bought the building she operated out of and increased the rent.

Unlike the Banff dollar store though, which hasn’t seen a replacement, Connelly is looking at new spaces in Canmore to continue on and is in the early stages of negotiations.

“But as of this moment in time, we have nowhere to go because there is nowhere we can afford to go,” said Connelly on Thursday (Jan. 7).


Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

Jordan Small joined the Outlook in 2014 and covers the vast world of sports in the Bow Valley. A Barrie, Ont. native, he also wrote for RMO's Mountain Guide section and the MD of Bighorn beat.
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