Never say die 

London Drugs persists with Whistler store proposal

By Vivian Moreau

London Drugs faced a volley of questions recently from Whistler businesses worried about the B.C.-owned retailer setting up shop in the village.

Would the proposed two-level multi-faceted store put small retailers out of business? Would allowing London Drugs in open up flood gates to even larger retail stores? And would prices be the same as in its Vancouver stores? Those were some of the questions posed by a dozen retailers who attended a Jan. 5 breakfast meeting at MY Millennium Place.

Hosted by London Drugs consultants Andrew Pottinger and Blake Hudema, who presented recent resident survey findings, after opening comments the forum became a debate amongst businesses on the 106-year-old company’s plans to open a Whistler Village location.

As the owner of three Whistler food establishments Wayne Katz says he is a regular London Drugs customer but worries the large store will change the resort town’s flavour.

“I don’t think it’s what this style of community is looking for,” Katz said. “What worries me is that the big box store sets a precedent for other big boxes.”

Realtor Bob Hamilton said it’s too late to worry about large corporations moving into town.

“You’re already fighting a huge corporation in Intrawest,” Hamilton said, noting the company occupies 35,000 sq. ft. of retail space with 16 businesses. “And every one of you, Wayne included, are competing against that kind of buying power.”

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 portions of the lower space from indoor recreational to commercial is contingent on results from a year-long retail study. Draft recommendations of the study were presented to council Dec. 18 and a municipal open house to present the retail study for public discussion is slated for late January.

Colin Johnson of Nesters Beer and Wine Store says he doesn’t doubt camera stores will be affected if London Drugs opens its planned 5,683 sq. metre store in the Village Common property owned by Larco Investments. But benefits outweigh the possible negatives, he said, and Whistler loses potential retail revenue when residents do their buying elsewhere, and if London Drugs is allowed into Whistler business could increase through foot traffic.

“If you’re losing 25 per cent of your income to the community and (London Drugs) brings another $2 million to the surrounding stores then there’s a net benefit to the community,” he said.

Adventure tour operator Helene Steiner has lived in Whistler for 14 years and wanted to know if London Drugs would guarantee that prices in the resort would be the same as in Vancouver stores.

That would depend on what extra demands would be imposed during the re-zoning application by the municipality, such as staff housing requirements or surcharges, Pottinger said.

London Drugs’ president said a recent survey shows 77 per cent of Whistler residents would shop at the store if it were in the resort.

“And the reality is that people in our studies don’t view London Drugs as a large format (store),” Wynne Powell said, “especially with what we’re designing there.”

London Drugs is proposing a low-impact wood detailed store front with approximately 1,433 sq. metres on the main level and the bulk of the store, 4,250 sq. metres on the lower level. Total space is about half of what London Drugs stores normally utilize.

As to concerns that the store will threaten small businesses, Powell said the company has no history of that scenario.

“That doesn’t mean that every small business in existence (in Whistler) won’t need to adapt and change, but they need to whether London Drugs is there or not. Time does not stand still.”

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