Vancouver’s East 1st Avenue fully reopened to traffic on Thursday, two months after a long strip of the route was closed for gas line work.
But while Fortis BC’s work is finished on the streets, it may just be beginning in the courtroom.
A number of Commercial Drive businesses say they’re banding together to sue the gas company over lost business they say was a byproduct of the closure.
Federico Fuoco, owner of Federico’s Supper Club at 1st Avenue and Commercial Drive is spearheading the class-action initiative.
WATCH: Commuters and Vancouver residents brace for chaos ahead of 1st Avenue closure
He said the summer was one of his slowest in two decades, which is hurting both him and his staff.
According to Fuoco, Fortis had previously agreed to compensate businesses for the impact of the construction but has since reneged.
“They even had an open house here at my restaurant before they did the project for all the merchants and all the businesses. They said they would compensate businesses, they would look at it,” he said.
“And then in July, they said, ‘No, we’re not going to compensate.’ So in other words, lawyer up, that’s what they said.”
Partial closures began on East 1st in May, and the street was fully closed from Clark Drive to Rupert Street in July. A section of the route reopened on Sunday, and motorists were able to use the whole street on Thursday.
But according to Fuoco, during that two-month full closure, some local businesses reported losses of between 20 and 50 per cent.
Artem Voropaev, owner of Pacific Laptop said that’s about how hard he’s been hit.
“I probably lost 30, 40 per cent in revenue within the last three months since they started partial closure on 1st Avenue,” he told Global News.
WATCH: 1st Avenue businesses face possible closure
Other businesses like the Cassia Bake Shop on 1st Avenue actually chose to close for the summer. Fuoco said they’re reopening next week, but are now having trouble finding staff.
On top of the reduced business, Fuoco claimed traffic calming measures put in place to try and discourage shortcut-seeking “rat runners” have also been causing havoc for businesses.
“They’ve closed all the side streets, you can’t get here. I’ve had my suppliers ticketed. I’ve been stopped by the cops, and I live and work in this neighbourhood. I have my employees ticketed, customers ticketed. I mean, it’s ridiculous.”
Fortis BC dismisses that claim.
In a statement, it says it has worked with businesses along the gas line route to ensure “access is maintained for deliveries and customers,” and that it has been “installing signage, and featuring businesses in social media promotions and at community events.”
It said it had not yet been served with any legal papers, and that it would “continue to work with businesses and residents along the route during the gas line project to minimize the impacts of construction.”
The statement did not speak to Fuoco’s allegations that businesses had been told they would be eligible for compensation.
The dispute has shades of the controversy over business impacts along the Cambie corridor during Canada Line SkyTrain construction from 2005 to 2009.
WATCH: 11 blocks of East 1st Avenue to be closed for 10 weeks this summer
In that case, a cheaper but more disruptive technique known as “cut and cover” was used to dig the train’s tunnel, chasing first customers — and later businesses — out of the neighbourhood.
That case prompted a class-action lawsuit, and in 2016, the BC Supreme Court ruled that while businesses couldn’t sue for loss of revenue, they were entitled to some limited compensation based on their rents.
Earlier this year, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business produced a report looking at construction impacts on small businesses, and found nearly half of entrepreneurs on construction routes lost sales.
The report called for local governments to implement construction mitigation policies, including compensation for small business who lose sales due to infrastructure work.
The report pointed to Brussels, where merchants that are forced to close for a week or more get $117 per day in compensation, and Seattle, where during recent LRT construction, the city put aside US$15 million to compensate affected businesses.