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Brick bucks trend and returns to city

Three years after leaving Victoria and building a big-box store on the West Shore, the Brick is back in the core.

Three years after leaving Victoria and building a big-box store on the West Shore, the Brick is back in the core.

Canada's largest furniture retailer is bucking the trend to hold expansion or scale back by opening six new stores in the last two weeks, including the company's 57,000-square-foot West Coast flagship in Coquitlam and the new Victoria location, which has been converted from a clearance centre to a full-line outlet.

John Ellis, manager of the store at 2835 Douglas St., said the former United Furniture location has gone through extensive renovations and will officially open Saturday with Victoria acting mayor Charlayne Thornton-Joe cutting a ceremonial ribbon. The clearance centre is being moved to the basement. Each floor covers about 17,000 square feet.

"We're trying to take advantage of the marketplace ... it's time to grow," Ellis said. "There was a demand for a full-service Brick in this area, and so a decision was made to totally remake this store."

He noted customer traffic has been steady leading up to the opening, and the people who are coming into the store are buying, particularly televisions, which are the "hot commodity this Christmas." The store never closed during the three-month renovation.

It carries the full array of Brick furniture -- including the Cindy Crawford line exclusive to the company in Canada and a line of smaller furniture for condo dwellers -- as well as mattresses, appliances and electronics.

Ellis said the Douglas store has doubled its workforce to 16 and is still hiring. The West Shore store, at 47,000 square feet, employs 32.

The Brick left its long-time location on Quadra Street, now a Fairway Market, in December 2005.

The Brick, based in Edmonton, has also opened stores in London, Ont., Niagara Falls, Ont., Drummondville, Que., and Winnipeg this month. The company trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange as an income trust. Units fell seven cents, or 3.54 per cent, to $1.91 in yesterday's trading.

The Brick Group Income Fund lost about one-third of its market value in early November after cutting distributions in half and announcing third quarter net profits dropped to $12.4 million from $17.2 million in the same quarter a year ago. Investors responded by slashing the Brick's value by 35 per cent as the fund's units fell to the lowest level since the Brick went public in 2004.

Kim Yost, president and chief executive, told analysts the distribution cuts were a precaution to focus on using the downturn to grow business. He said the company was getting internal costs down, completing 2008 store openings in December ahead of the biggest buying season, and preparing to make careful use of its spending in the first half of 2009. The Brick has 215 stores across Canada.

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Richard Harley is closing his Valhalla Pure Outfitters franchise downtown after 17 years and consolidating the outdoor equipment store at his larger location at Millstream Village Shopping Centre on the West Shore. Harley cited several reasons for closing his 615 Broughton St. location -- including limited space to properly display his wares, ongoing social problems and increasing competition downtown and a lease that expires in the new year.

Harley indicated the introduction of Mountain Equipment Co-op downtown took away some of his business but was not the deciding factor in closing the 3,000-sqaure-foot store.

"The Millstream store [at 8,000 square feet] shows what's possible. ... I've got lots of space to display what we sell in an attractive way to our customers, and there's lots of free parking," Harley said yesterday.

Valhalla, which has 16 stores in B.C. and Alberta, sells a range of outdoor equipment and apparel, including kayaks, tents and sleeping bags. "We do well in downturns and good times," Harley said, noting that Canadians tend to take vacations or smaller trips closer to home when money gets tight.

He plans to close out the downtown store at the end of the month and is liquidating as much merchandise as he can, some selling for 70 per cent off.

Harley also owns a Valhalla franchise in Vancouver but has pulled back in recent years, selling his shares in the Nanaimo, Vernon and Nelson stores.

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Christopher Nation has been appointed to the Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia's Stakeholder Advisory Committee, representing the Union of B.C. Municipalities. A lawyer since 1977, Nation started working as Saanich's first municipal solicitor in 1979 and continues to serve the role. The SAC operates to ensure that the LTSA board and executives are kept aware of any concerns related to land title and survey services. Members are nominated by the organizations that have a legislated interest in land titles and land survey framework. Other Victorians on the committee include Ralston Alexander of Cook Roberts, representing the Law Society of B.C., Connie Fair of the B.C. Assessment Authority and Grant Parnell, assistant deputy minister in the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, representing the province.

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Dr. Jennifer Charlesworth, executive director of the Federation of Child and Family Services of B.C., was among the new board members appointed last week to Dance Victoria, which has just completed the most successful season in its 11-year history. She is joined by Joan Athey, a Victoria marketing and communications strategist; Sean Marshman, a chartered accountant and currently finance director for Vifor Pharma, a Zurich-based pharmaceutical company; and Kimberley Tuson, a professional dancer who owns Island Grace yoga studio. The returning board includes president Colleen Gibson, owner of Maresa Boutique; Heather Frost, a travel consultant with Blaney's Travel; lawyer Carlos MacDonald of Cardinal Law; John Shields, senior program manager at 100.3 The Q; and Jane Tice, administrator at Glendale Gardens. Dance Victoria's seven-show season drew a total audience of 17,529, a 15.5 per cent increase from the 2006-07 season. Box office revenue was also up, by 10 per cent, to $669,397.

dkloster@tc.canwest.com