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'People are scared to come': Nanaimo thrift store owners closing shop, citing social disorder

Friends of Haven Thrift Shop owners say they’ve seen a large decline in business in recent years because customers don’t feel safe in the neighbourhood
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Kevan Shaw, left, vice-president of the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, with Madeline Crane and husband Cory Crane in front of Friends of Haven Thrift Shop in downtown Nanaimo on Tuesday. The couple are closing the popular shop due to deteriorating conditions around their store. VIA KEVAN SHAW

Madeline and Cory Crane have been running the Friends of Haven Thrift Shop, a fixture in downtown Nanaimo, for almost two decades, and have built up a loyal clientele.

But the couple are closing the popular second-hand store next month, saying they’ve seen a large decline in business in recent years because customers don’t feel safe anymore in the neighbourhood.

“People are scared to come, browse and shop downtown because of the chaos and perceived danger,” said Madeline Crane, who started working at the store in 2000 before purchasing it six years ago.

“I don’t blame them. When I arrive at the store in the morning, I have to clean up syringes, drug paraphernalia and feces left scattered in the entryway.”

She said the outside of the building has been scorched by small fires from people doing drugs in front of the 7,500-square-foot store, located at 451 Albert St.

“It is a decision we have not taken lightly and it has been heartbreaking to hear the outpouring of support by our customers,” said the 58-year-old.

Crane said that they had been looking for an alternative location, but have so far been unable to find a property that meets their needs, with a receiving bay and storage facilities for donated items, within walking distance of a bus stop.

The store has a close relationship with Haven Society, a non-profit organization that supports women escaping domestic violence in the Nanaimo/Oceanside region. Clients of Haven would receive gift cards that could be redeemed for clothing and household items at the thrift store.

Unless the couple can find another location soon, the shop will close permanently on May 18, they said.

Kevan Shaw, vice-president of the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, said the neighbourhood’s decline began 20 years ago.

“It’s gotten progressively worse and worse over the years and the decriminalization of [small amounts of] drugs has not helped,” said Shaw.

“People think that they can do drugs wherever and whenever they want. Enough is enough.”

He said drug users use gas-powered lighters to heat up their drugs for ingestion, and some of those lighters — called torches on the street — have a trigger lock so they can stay alight without a thumb on them.

“The problem is that occasionally a drug user will pass out after ingesting the drug. The lighter falls to the ground and ignites any flammable material, scorching the building.” he said. “Add in the needles, feces and garbage and you can understand why businesses are leaving.”

Part of the problem, he said, is the concentration of social services and agencies in the area, with a supervised consumption site half a block away and a shelter/warming centre a block away.

He pointed to at least five “for sale” signs in the area as homeowners attempt to flee the neighbourhood.

“We need to help those who are on the street to get off the street — to get them help and back into society — something that we are not seeing the provincial government do,” Shaw said.

“Just giving out stuff isn’t doing any good. We need mandatory treatment and we need to see repeat offenders go to jail. We need to bring back care and order.”

parrais@timescolonist.com