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B.C. launches $10.5M fund to help businesses grappling with vandalism

This wall on Keefer Street at Gore Avenue in Vancouver's Chinatown has been repeatedly hit with graffiti vandalism. Global News

One morning last summer, Jake Jackman received a call from a security guard that the windows of his optical store in Vancouver’s West End had been smashed.

All four windows of the shop, The Ice Cream Parlour, had been shattered. The replacement bill was $11,000, and the culprit was never caught.

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Jackman is now among small business owners welcoming a new provincial rebate program that will help shops repair and prevent vandalism damage.

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The $10.5-million program will launch in the fall, with eligible businesses receiving up to $2,000 for repairs and up to $1,000 for prevention measures.

Jackman said another shop owner across the street has suffered so much glass-breaking vandalism that they are replacing windows “every three weeks.”

“What really excites me about this (program) is the fact that they’re putting money into preventive measures now,” he said, noting several business owners in his area are talking about installing protective metal shutters on storefronts.

“The best sort of solution is to not have broken windows at all,” he said. “I’m very excited to hear that they are at least putting some money into this. Whether it’s enough, that’s up for contention, but they’re making an effort now.”

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Jackman said the West End isn’t alone in experiencing rising vandalism, with other Vancouver neighbourhoods, such as Gastown and Granville Street, even more seriously affected.

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Another such neighbourhood is Chinatown, said entrepreneur and philanthropist Carol Lee.

Lee, chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, owns the Chinatown BBQ restaurant and has been outspoken about the decline of foot traffic and the flight of traditional businesses in the neighbourhood, trends that were exacerbated by the pandemic since 2020.

Lee said a rise in vandalism and related costs is happening at a time when business owners are already dealing with inflation and other factors driving up the cost of operation.

“Every business owner dreads walking up to their storefront to see it vandalized,” Lee said at a news conference announcing the rebate program on Wednesday. “At a time where every dollar counts, repair costs regularly impact bottom lines.”

BC Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Fiona Famulak said the new rebate funding is much needed since small business owners in the province bear the brunt of social issues ranging from vandalism to abusive behaviour towards shopkeepers and staff.

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Any funding that strengthens small businesses would in turn strengthen their neighbourhoods, Famulak said.

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“Many businesses … are on the front line,” she said. “And it’s through no fault of their own that their costs of doing business are increasing.”

B.C. Economic Development Minister Brenda Bailey said the funding will be retroactively available as a rebate to pay for damage suffered as early as Jan. 1 this year.

The provincial government said the costs of broken glass and cleaning graffiti are eligible for the funding, although no further details have been released.

Jackman said while he is happy to see the new funding, more action is needed from government to address other issues linked to the rise of vandalism and shops’ efforts to combat them.

Jackman said operators have to go through “a lot of red tape” at the municipal level to install shutters, meaning shops may not be able to improve security even if the rebate funding is there.

“There’s not really a very streamlined process for that quite yet,” he said. “And I do think that would ultimately be very helpful for small businesses like myself or others in the neighbourhood.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 26, 2023.

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