The Dwindling Downtown Squamish

KK photo 1By Ken Kwok
Published: May 27, 2015
THESE days downtown Squamish is really a very down downtown. In less than a year, I saw two eating places, one coffee shop with a church, an appliance wholesaler, a merchandize store, and a start-up business support enterprise close their doors. And these were just businesses closed in downtown. For a small town this is a significant loss. Who’s next? 
For two years since I moved here, Cleveland Ave is one of my favorite streets to do my strolling and coffee breaks. My long stroll up and down Cleveland is a nostalgic walk back in time to recall the simple life of a small town that I once lived. Along this memory lane of mine I’ve made some friends with local store owners and their employees. They’re super friendly, courteous, and always ready to talk with you. I love their smiles and optimism, which they flash despite the challenging way they run their businesses on any given day. 
These small business folks are the frontline ambassadors of Squamish to outside visitors when they drive into downtown. I had witnessed their professional, friendly and courteous hospitality extended to tourists in the last two years. They did a fantastic job because they carry the spirit of true entrepreneurship that most of us seldom appreciate as their contribution to Squamish. I respect that they keep hanging in there for their families and children. 
In recent months, the fame of Squamish has spread all over the world. Squamish has been named one of the top places of tourist attraction and even hailed as the No. 1 boom town in BC. To our municipal government and tourism, construction, hotel and real estate sectors, the global recognition and praise of Squamish must be a windfall of the century. I have a question: “Really?”  
So far I haven’t seen any obvious economic or job benefit coming from our new-found international fame except there are more speedy cars on the highway going up to Whistler and not detouring here.. So far I haven’t seen any rise in the number of tourists flooding Cleveland Ave to give downtown an economic boost. It seems Squamish has got the hype it deserves but not the jackpot it needs.  
So the obvious question is: If Squamish is experiencing an boom, why did stores in downtown close fast and furious in recent months? 
First, I must say each of the stores closed had its own story. However, I heard the chief cause for most of the closures is because of the ridiculous doubling of rent by landlords that made operating the store impossible. If this were true, those landlords must be ignorant of the actual economic state of Squamish. So far I have yet to see tourists pouring into downtown to justify a huge hike in rent.   
I’m surprised the rocket scientists we elected to the City didn’t seem to notice downtown is dwindling and the increased empty stores are mocking the alleged boom of Squamish. I would appreciate the City to do something perhaps to have an open dialogue with the landlords to educate them on the practicality of affordable rent before they chase all their tenants away. I believe sensible landlords are willing to listen. 
Finally, if the dwindling of downtown businesses and stores persists, I won’t be surprised if we have to promote our ghostly downtown as a permanent film location to Hollywood. Perhaps this may not be a bad thing. Perhaps this may be the boom that downtown is waiting for. I’m just kidding.


  1. Donny says:

    Come on; no one doubles the rent and then faces three years of zero income because of resulting vacancy. Not even an evil landlord is that stupid.

    Maybe the stores just had the wrong product ; like why would I shop at a dingy Sears outlet store when I can go to Home Depot and look at three times the selection?

    It isn’t just the tourists that bypass the none existent downtown , it’s 75% of the population of Squamish that don’t live there.

    And in spite of all the protests of Council about maintaining downtown, it’s them, Council, that sold the land to Toyota and Ford and all the other units that are being built right now, away from downtown.

    My bet is on Bank of Nova Scotia as the next to move out now that their Manager isn’t Mayor any more.

    • Ken says:

      Donny, not all the stores closed were resulted of double rent increase. It’s painful to see downtown small businesses struggle with no end in sight despite the rising fame and cost of Squamish.

  2. Douglas R. Day says:

    Dear Ken
    In life it is always difficult to have it all
    The “Downtown” of Squamish shifted two miles north
    almost 10 years ago.
    You cannot put WallMart
    Home Depot, Canadian Tire, London Drugs
    the Liqour Store and dozens of other upscale
    in demand retailers that far away from the old Downtown
    and expect everything to be the same.
    Squamish is a small town of less than
    20,000 people
    What did the various Councils expect would
    occur when they re-zoned all this land to
    the north for retail???
    We are not New York
    There is only so many retail dollars
    that can be squeezed out of a small town
    If you want to see vibrant retail drive north a mile
    or two.
    All those busineses are doing well
    There are no boarded up shops in
    Garibaldi Village
    The Executive Suites Hotel in the area
    is experiencing its highest occupancy ever
    Eventually as the City grows things will even out
    a bit and the old Downtown will see a revival
    But it will take a long time
    No amount of tax breaks is going to speed
    up that process
    I also enjoy going to the old Downtown
    to shop and get my mail.
    Many others feel the same way
    Douglas R. Day
    Garibaldi Springs Golf Resort
    Squamish B.C.

    • marie says:

      M & M closed down in Garibaldi Village.

    • Ken says:

      Garibaldi small businesses are doing much better than downtown because they’re on the highway and highly visible. Downtown is invisible to out of towners driving their up to Whistler. Bigger sign to DT might draw more attention. Also the type of stores in DT is different. However, in festive seasons DT is alive but for a few hours. Squamish Summer Farmers Market on Saturday is a huge community hub drawing many local people and tourists to DT.

  3. tjay says:

    Bring back the pulp mills, the saw mills, the rail yards along with the blue collar workers who tend not to be sooooo snooty, and you would see Squamish as it used to be…vibrant.

  4. jeff p says:

    Let a bunch of dirt bag hippies control and have say what goes on in this town. Maybe the next council meeting should take place down at the end of loggers lane where all the freeloaders of this town live rent free in their vans on district property. Instead of chasing business out of town, maybe they should be chased out of town. Food for thought. Open another coffee shop too.