Think locals if you want Creekside success 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE / TOURISM WHISTLER - The base of Whistler Creekside at dusk
  • photo by mike crane / tourism whistler
  • The base of Whistler Creekside at dusk

Whither Creekside? Or is that wither, Creekside.

For far too long — even before Intrawest rolled the dice on the mountain-base redevelopment — the answer has been the latter. There was talk, there were plans, there was no action. Creekside remained what it had been since the beginning: dusty, funky, eclectic, a bit shabby, real and, with the exception of the winter-weekend warriors, local.

No longer dusty, funky or shabby, Creekside is still largely the land time forgot. And no small part of the reason is because Intrawest never really rolled the dice on its grand redevelopment scheme. It was following the golden rule followed of every developer that had a part in building the resort: Take the money and run. The fact that it did it better than the rest is only a testament to its skill, timing, luck and the power it wielded with successive councils.

It was building for the future. More specifically, it was building for a future, a future that may never come and certainly hasn't shown any sign of coming in the decade-plus since dusty old Creekside was turned into Fantasy Land.

Its vision of the future included lots of tourists in their dime-bag, quarter-bag and full-bag condos and rent-a-mansions further up the hill. It included an unknown mix of retail but one that had, "... funky eateries and unusual shops..." with cool, '60s-style signs. What it got was empty restaurants — hell, even Subway fled the high rents — empty shops, a couple of moderate and in no small measure inexplicable success stories, an ersatz waterfall, fake rock walls and, oh yeah, profit up front on the condos, more on an 80-per-cent sale to a Florida REIT and a well-timed exit.

And so Creekside withers. Not necessarily in the winter, naturally. Convenient free parking, the best ski-out on either mountain, aging memories of Whistler pioneers and a general revulsion on the part of many locals to tempt fate in the village parking lots sees to that.

But the rest of the year? Nada. Zilch. Locals keep Creekside Market going because we like shopping there and, thus far, Jimmy Pattison doesn't own it. Ditto virtually everything else that's still open.

And therein — are you listening Greenstead Consulting Group? CNL? — lies any hope of redemption for Creekside. IT'S THE LOCALS, STUPID!!

Let's take a quick tour and ask ourselves this question: What businesses are successful at Creekside?

We'll start with the granddaddy of Creekside success stories, the Rim Rock Café. How successful. Perennially voted Whistler's favourite restaurant. A must-dine experience for many. Oh, and broad local support, especially during its shoulder season pricing, but also throughout the year when a splurge is in order.

Uli's was a popular locals' restaurant when it held court at Whistler Creek Lodge. Large portions, inexpensive food prepared with Uli's unique, love ingredient. After a demand for a sky-high rent increase, Uli's disappeared and the place sat empty for years until Creekbread came along with the magic formula for Creekside success — cater to locals and be a part of the community.

Southside Diner opened in fantastically expensively renovated digs where Southside Deli used to be after a one-season wonder of an urban oyster bar withered on the vine. Oysters failed for the opposite reason Southside thrives — local support and clientele.

Rolands, nee Hoz's, nee JB's, continues to do well in an out-of-the way location. The Red Door Bistro is setting Whistler and the world on fire with a second fine dining experience in sleepy old Creekside. Why? Yes, this is beginning to be a rhetorical question, isn't it? Local support.

Let me put this another way, Greenstead and CNL. There aren't enough fookin' tourists in Creekside to keep businesses afloat. There aren't enough tourists in the village who are going to make the trek to Creekside to keep businesses afloat. Any wishing otherwise on your part isn't going to change that equation.

So it really makes me wonder where you've stuck your head when you say things like, "We want to create something totally unique and uniquely Canadian." Oh, that's because you think the village is full of Lululemon, the Gap, Earls. Well, yeah, they're there. But so are a lot of unique and uniquely Canadian places.

And as for "signature restaurants," like I said, we've got two of the best and three more that have a dedicated local clientele. Heck, even tourists come down to them. But nowhere enough tourists to make them successful without that local support.

Is any of this starting to sink in?

No? Let me put it another way. That big, empty, several times failed restaurant on the corner, yeah, that's the one, the fake waterfall in front? That's never going to be a successful high-end restaurant, at least not high enough to pay the rents you're going to want. Intrawest screwed the pooch on that one when they didn't take my advice and open a Timmy's there. Christ, they could have cashflowed the Peak 2 Peak Gondola from the sale of Timbits alone.

And does anyone remember Zen? Wasn't that the name of that sushi place in First Tracks? The one that may have perfected the old Zen koan about the sound of one hand clapping? The only locals I ever met who dined there lavished praise on their high prices and slow service.

So let's get real guys. Creekside is never going to be a tourist attraction. WB's decision to open access to the bike park from Creekside is going to help in the summer. But let's not kid ourselves. It's mostly going to help Canski's bike rentals and Dusty's refreshing beverages and food. It's going to be a godsend for bikers tired of parking — or trying to find parking — in Lot 4 and riding the Melamed Traverse to the crowded base of Whistler Mountain. It is less likely to help Dream Merchants sell some of their wonderful furnishings.

If you want to be serious about making Creekside vibrant, stop thinking village and start thinking, for example, Marketplace. Fill it with the shops, services and eateries that'll attract locals and the relative handful of tourists who stay at Creekside. Stop thinking unique, high-end and profitable. Start thinking reasonable rents are better than no rents. I know, it's not in your DNA to think that way but even the shareholders you hold so dear would rather have something coming in than nothing.

Frankly, I don't give you much of a chance for success. Two reasons: First, you don't understand the local dynamics and market, and second, you're greedy. You can get help figuring out the first but until you stop thinking exclusively in terms of shareholder return and start thinking about community building you will continue to keep screwing that poor, poor pooch.

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