Our local retailers are doing their best to weather the COVID-19 storm – modifying their premises to ensure physical distancing, constant disinfecting of surfaces touched by customers, equipping themselves and staff with protective masks and shields, all while revenues drop as customers stay home more and curtail visits to their favourite shops.
This is not a good time for a retailer to suddenly receive six-months’ notice from their landlord cancelling the merchant’s lease without cause. But that is the situation now faced by the Lee family business here in Qualicum Beach.
Better known to the public as Kim’s Corner Store, Qualicum Beach residents, especially those who have patronized “Kim’s” over the past two decades, will recognize the popular business located at 740 Memorial (in the middle of the block, not on the corner, an inside joke).
Displayed beside the plexiglas shield protecting his customers and Mr. Lee behind the counter, is a poster explaining the crisis he and his family are now facing – eviction in the time of COVID-19.
Twenty years ago, the Lee family came to Qualicum Beach from South Korea. They have been commercial tenants in this same building for 20 years, continually renewing their lease, typically for 5 years at a time.
According to Mr. Lee, the entire building was sold last year to Qualicum Village Holdings who assumed the leases of the existing tenants. When his lease came up for renewal on July 1, 2019, Mr. Lee requested another 5 year lease. Negotiations ensued, resulting in a three year lease, with an option for an additional two years but at an increased rent.
With at least a three year tenure secured, Mr. Lee says he then invested in capital equipment in the store, including a $7,000 replacement compressor in their walk-in freezer.
But at the end of February 2020, just as Kim’s Corner Store and every other retail business in town was being rocked by the consequences of COVID-19’s arrival, the Lees were blindsided by their new landlord’s written notice to vacate in six months. Apparently the lease that Mr. Lee signed in 2019 includes a six month termination-without-cause clause that Mr. Lee claims he was unaware of.
One of their landlords is Ms. Briana Barker, pharmacist and co-owner of Qualicum Beach Pharmasave, a major tenant and now an owner of the building. Mr. Lee says that Ms. Barker’s husband, Darin Barker, did much of the lease negotiation for Pharmasave. According to Pharmasave’s corporate website, the Qualicum Beach Pharmasave franchise is co-owned by Ms. Barker and a Ms. or Mr. Sandy Conn.
Our Town needs good pharmacies and we need good merchants. A bitter dispute between these long-time neighbours on Memorial Avenue could have adverse consequences for both businesses and their customers.
Stay tuned. This story line is currently about a landlord facing eviction at a most inopportune time. A broader story may develop if more information becomes available, particularly from the landlord, who has been invited to provide their perspective on the situation. [Updated on May 8, 2020.]