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London Drugs anxious to open store in Whistler

Company's president says location will be sensitive to village design

By Vivian Moreau

Although London Drugs’ president says the company is keen to open a store in Whistler, municipal staff say it will be months before they look at a rezoning application that would allow the B.C.-based company to move to town.

London Drugs would like to lease a two-level Village Common property that currently houses two high-end clothing stores on the main floor with a parkade below. But rezoning the lower space from indoor recreational to commercial is contingent on results from a year-long retail study. Findings and recommendations from the study will not be presented to council for another two to three months and only then can the rezoning application be seriously considered.

Mike Kirkegaard, the municipality’s community planning manager, said he will review a report from Vancouver-based Thomas Consultants regarding potential retail strategies and will draft a timeline for addressing strategy recommendations with anticipated presentation to council in late fall. He said that Larco Investments — landlords for the 6,372 sq. metre Village Common property that London Drugs is interested in leasing — have applied for rezoning.

“We told Larco that we would not be in a position to make any recommendations on the proposal without the retail strategy and if they desire to proceed then it would have to be without staff support and it was their choice to proceed if they wanted to,” Kirkegaard said.

London Drugs say they’re willing wait for the proper wheels to turn.

“We’re patient in these things,” said Wynne Powell, London Drugs’ president and CEO.

“These are long-term moves for us so we’re waiting for that report to go to council and for the planning department to form a measured decision.”

Powell said two surveys, one commissioned by London Drugs and another by Whistler municipality, show strong support for a store in the village. Powell said that without prompting one-quarter of Whistler respondents named London Drugs as a store they’d like to see in the village.

“In survey terms that’s a very high number,” he said.

London Drugs’ potential move to Whistler has been a contentious one, prompting debates amongst candidates in last fall’s municipal election. Powell said the 63-year-old company is sensitive to concerns of Whistler residents and businesses about the effect a large store might have on the village.

“We’re trying to recognize and respect the ambience of the village and have worked really hard to build a different look and feel so it will be very much tied to the village motif,” he said.

With the bulk of the store in the 4,000 sq. metre lower level and a low-profile 1,372 sq. metre main level, Powell says the store will appeal to both residents and tourists. London Drugs has another two-level store in Vancouver at Georgia and Granville that has a lucrative tourism customer base. A dramatic increase in group tour numbers to Whistler this year has convinced the company to pursue opening a store in the village.

“We know from our downtown Vancouver stores that they are popular with tours,” Powell said, “so with the visitors coming to Whistler complementing the fulltime residents we’re going to be able to keep prices where we want them by having that mix of business.”

Powell said if Whistler council gives the green light a Whistler London Drugs could be open in just over one year. He emphasized the company’s perspective.

“We understand that the village is a sacred and important area and we want to be a positive addition to it, not a negative one.”