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Empty lots in Lethbridge impacting businesses: ‘A few other places have vacated the general area’

Click to play video: 'Lethbridge businesses say neighbouring a vacant lot may have negative impacts' Lethbridge businesses say neighbouring a vacant lot may have negative impacts
WATCH ABOVE: Vacant commercial buildings have become a common sight in Lethbridge. Eloise Therien takes a look at why some lots are struggling to entice new buyers – Mar 9, 2020

Smart Centre Lethbridge North has seen the closure of four separate businesses in the same parking lot in recent years.

Reitmans, La Senza, a TD Bank, and a newly-opened liquor store have all shut their doors, which may have citizens wondering: Why the empty buildings in Lethbridge?

According to Josh Marti, a commercial realtor with Avison Young, location is a huge factor.

“I would think that if that site was like 10 blocks to the west, like in the Legacy area, it would have been a totally different scenario,” Marti said.

“You’re at the end of a road, you’re right against the industrial park, so you’re not catering to the folks driving past on their way home.”

READ MORE: Commercial buildings sit empty in Lethbridge even as new businesses pop up

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Lethbridge business owner Taralyn Berte agrees that location is important.

Berte opened Round Street Hair Company in 2017, moving into a quaint space across from Galt Gardens in downtown Lethbridge.

She said despite being in the middle of the city, people seem to be wary of the area.

“It’s not all negative that everybody always thinks it is, but you know that’s what everybody hears,” she said, adding she has lost a few clients since moving to her current location.

Berte adds she’s been a bit disappointed by the lack of development near her salon, and she says the property next to her has been vacant for as long as she can remember.

“I kind of chose this location because I heard of the development going on on this block. I know in the block to the south of me, they started developing up that block quite a bit. [It seems] like downtown kind of stops there.”

READ MORE: Luxury living in downtown Lethbridge: $1.2M condo up for sale

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Manager of Long and McQuade, Dave Khalil, says the area around their location on 1st Avenue has been feeling a bit underpopulated since two of their neighbours left their properties.

“When we moved here the Boston Pizza was already closed,” Khalil said.

“It does seem as though a few other places have vacated the general area since we moved in.”

A children’s thrift store directly across the street closed its doors a few months after the musical instrument store moved in.

Khalil added the close proximity to Lethbridge’s Supervised Consumption Site (SCS) could also impact businesses’ decisions.

READ MORE: Lethbridge police see jump in calls to supervised consumption site

“You start to see too many empty buildings, empty houses on any street — it’s going to give you a certain impression of things.”

Marti said there are many reasons why a business may not move into a certain space.

Some may only be zoned for a certain purpose, which is decided by the city.

Marti said properties may struggle to sell as the economy changes and people choose different ways to buy their products.

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“A lot of the trends with electronic online buying through Amazon, etc, is putting a lot of pressure on big box so you’re starting to see them scale back.”

Avison Young is the broker for a 95,000 square-foot property that was formerly home to a Save-On Foods, before it moved across the parking lot into Centre Village Mall.

Marti said that property will likely need to be split up.

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“You’re going to have to… turn it into two or three different businesses, which takes a lot of work in capital.”

Marti said the zoning on the property has several permitted uses — not just for grocery stores — and the city usually cannot decide what happens to any privately-owned property.

The City of Lethbridge provided Global News with the following statement:

“We are not able to demolish or decide what happens to a business that has been vacant for any period of time if it is not a hazard to the public. Building Inspection has the ability, under the Municipal Government Act (MGA), to restrict access and issue an order if a site becomes a safety hazard, however.”

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It is not known if any of the aforementioned properties are currently in the process of being sold.

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