Big box stores may not be welcome in Whistler 

New bylaw would limit the size of stores in the village as London Drugs submits application for large presence

Whistler has taken up the fight against big box stores.

On Monday night municipal staff introduced a bylaw that would limit the size of village stores to 5,000 square feet.

That bylaw, if adopted, will send a clear message to future big businesses thinking to open shop in the village. In particular, it could quash the controversial plans from London Drugs to open an 18,000 square foot store in the heart of the village. Those plans were submitted in a rezoning application filed just days before the new bylaw came before council.

Local coffee shop owner Chris Quinlan, who was at the council meeting to hear debate on the bylaw, heralded the move.

"I think the bylaw is fantastic," he said. "It addresses the concerns that we have about keeping small unique businesses operating within the main core of the village."

But that’s just one side of the debate.

On the flip side, local commercial realtor Bob Hamilton, who is not connected to the London Drugs deal, criticized the bylaw.

"I think the free market should prevail," he said. "I think it’s wrong to put any kind of restrictions on anything that’s legal.

"I just think that we have to have something for everybody and that it is wrong to put restrictions on size. Why does size necessarily mean bad?"

And so the debate rages around town as local business owners and residents discuss the merits and pitfalls of allowing more big box stores in the village, perhaps at the expense of locally owned businesses.

Jonathan Lazar, director of commercial property for Maple Leaf Property Management, the company trying to bring London Drugs to their Whistler Village Centre building, questions the definition of "locally owned."

"What defines ‘locally owned’? In order to be ‘locally owned’ do the owners have to live in the Resort Municipality of Whistler, or have an office here? What if they live or have an office in Pemberton of Squamish? Or Richmond? If there is a problem retaining locally owned businesses, can it be proven that the problem is due to the entrance in the market of large stores?" he asked via an e-mail to Pique Newsmagazine.

"I think these questions need to be answered and the problem properly defined before we find solutions. I understand Nesters and The Grocery Store are still doing well, notwithstanding IGA’s 25,000 square foot presence in Whistler for a number of years."

Council is leaving the answer up to the community for now. On Monday they voted to move the proposed bylaw to the next step in the approval process – a public open house – to get feedback from the community before moving ahead with the bylaw or not.

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