July 18, 2013 Features & Images » Feature Story

Village Pioneers 

Longtime businesses weather the Whistler storms and are still standing

click to flip through (7) PHOTO COURTESY OF WHISTLER MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES. - An original Eldon Beck 3D model of  Whistler Village, circa 1979.  (Highlighted  buildings are a random graphic representation and not indicative of actual businesses discussed in this feature)
  • Photo courtesy of Whistler Museum and Archives.
  • An original Eldon Beck 3D model of Whistler Village, circa 1979. (Highlighted buildings are a random graphic representation and not indicative of actual businesses discussed in this feature)

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Whistler Village 3.0

 The Village Square, where it all began, has long been the hub of village life. As Whistler Village spread to the north with the development of Marketplace, and then to the east with the Upper Village, the vital core remained along the Village Stroll.

It was planned that way. But it's been changing in recent years.

Foot traffic has been rerouted with the introduction of pay parking and the development of Whistler Olympic Plaza has created a new modern vitality to the north side of the village, with free concerts and a swathe of green space in which to sun in the summer and skate in the winter.

"It's actually turned the village on its head," said Drew Meredith, realtor and former mayor.

The village, as it ages and changes, has been giving planners pause for thought.

When Eldon Beck, the architect who laid out the master plan for the original village, visited Whistler in early 2005, Pique asked how we should protect what is often called the "jewel" of the resort — the village itself.

Beck said: "I think you protect by encouraging continued revitalization. Protecting is almost the wrong word because protecting sounds like you're going to preserve it, box it in and not let it do anything. And it has to maintain life and vitality and evolution and change and creativity and ongoing rejuvenation. If it doesn't do that, then it's going to die. So it's a jewel in process; consider that it's never done."

Beck's words were taken to heart.

The result, among other things, is Whistler Village 3.0 — a municipally driven initiative aimed at supporting the continued evolution and enhancement of the village through collaboration from various stakeholders. It flows from earlier work done by the Business Enhancement Committee just before the 2010 Games.

Councillor John Grills, who has owned village businesses, is the Resort Municipality of Whistler representative and explained the concept.

"What if we don't treat it as one great big village?" he says of the theory behind Whistler 3.0. "What if we break it into pieces so the neighbourhoods can work on their own identity?"

The project looks at nine distinct Village neighbourhoods, Marketplace, Main Street, Whistler Olympic Plaza, Upper Village, Town Plaza, Village Commons, Village Stroll and Village Square, Mountain Square and Skiers Plaza.

The idea is to bring stakeholders together — business owners, landlords, strata managers, property managers and the municipality and look at ways at making the place special and distinct, ways to make people linger a little longer.

One of the biggest spin-offs is to get people talking, brainstorming, thinking about the collective.

"An activity like that is important," agrees Meredith.

Laughs Grills: "The muni can't do everything, though some people would like it some days."

Meredith, who has long been involved in leasing commercial space in the village, talks about how there are good village locations for business, and the not so choice spots too.

"Anything on the stroll is bombproof," he says.

But what about those locations that have challenges?

He points to the new Purebread bakery/café on the edge of Whistler Olympic Plaza. With a big stone planter blocking the entrance, that location, long home to an art gallery, had its problems enticing people inside.

When Purebread took over about a month ago, one of the conditions of taking over the lease was that the planter be cut in half, allowing free access to the front door.

"Purebread took a B space and made it an A space," says Meredith.

And look what has happened.

For the past month there has been a steady stream of customers lining up for coffee and homemade decadent treats at the 1,100 sq.ft., long vacant store.

"The landlords approached us and said they had a space and they'd like us to go into it, and we thought it was a big leap and we were afraid to do it but we're really glad we did," says owner Paula Lamming. "It was the right decision for sure."

In just those few short weeks the one little shop has added to the vitality of Village North.

"The 'little guy' is coming back in," says Lamming, referring to the difficulty of the independents competing with chains.

"It's nice to see."

 

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