‘We need help’: Fire repair delays could force Vancouver bike shop owner into bankruptcy

The owner of a Vancouver bike shop that leases space in a West End building damaged by fire in 2018 says he may be forced to declare bankruptcy, as the approval process for repairs drags on over a year later.

“We can’t believe it, we’ve been out of business for 14 months,” said Enrique Vertti of Bikes and Blades Rentals. “I don’t see why it’s taking so long.”

On Dec. 23, 2018, fire broke out in a lane behind Vertti’s wood-frame shop in the multi-use building in the 700-block of Denman Street. The flames spread into the building’s walls and roof, gutting Bikes and Blades, a fixture in the West End for more than 25 years.

Vertti says fixing the fire and water damage is expected to take four to six weeks. But since his landlord has been unable to secure permits from the city for the work, he’s been shut out of his livelihood ever since.

“We don’t have more savings, we don’t have more money,” Vertti told Global News. “We need to go back to work, like, now.”

After 14 months of waiting with no income, Vertti fears he could lose everything. Missing out on another lucrative summer, he says, could force his business into bankruptcy.

“We need to get back before summertime in order for us to make enough money to survive for the winter,” he said.

In a statement, the City of Vancouver said it received an initial permit application last November for remediation work, but was unable to accept it as it was “inconsistent with the approved use of the building.”

An amended application was received in early Jan. 2020, according to the city. But based on an inspection of the site on Jan. 29, the city claims the application under-represented the scale of the work needed.

The city is currently working with the architect to once again amend the permit application to more appropriately reflect the work involved.

“Given the extensive nature of the damage, we want to assure the safety of this building before it is permitted to re-open,” the city’s statement reads.

No timeline was given on when permits for repair work could be approved.

In January 2018, city staff acknowledged there was a problem with the length of time it takes to get a building project approved.

At the time, the city was experiencing a 24 per cent increase in building permit applications, while staff increased by only five per cent.

Kaye Krishna, the city’s then-general manager of development services, told Global News at the time that 75 more staff members would be hired to reduce the backlog.

More than two years later, Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung says permitting timelines are still the number one issue that comes up when she talks to different business improvement associations.

“It impacts our small businesses the most,” said the NPA Vancouver city councillor.

Kirby-Yung says there are unique circumstances in Vertti’s case because the building housing his bike shop has multiple uses. Moving forward, she says she would like to see city staff guide businesses dealing with unforeseen circumstances through any updated permitting requirements.

“How do we fast track to get that business through that and get them back in business as soon as we can?” she asked.

Vertti believes getting his bike shop back up and running again is a win-win situation for the city, because it would allow him to create jobs by hiring employees and start paying taxes again.

For now, though, he can only sit and wait.

“We need help. The big guys, they will be there always, but we are not going to be here always,” said Vertti. “We are the small people.”

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