Just how hungry are the citizens of Sidney?
The developer of the Gateway shopping centre, proposed for the west side of the Patricia Bay Highway, says local shoppers are under-serviced when it comes to buying food — even though there are three major grocery stores on or adjacent to Beacon Avenue.
“Typically, for an area such as this, you would expect to find six square feet of grocery store for every resident,” said Peter Laughlin, Vancouver Island director of Omicron, who unveiled some of the plans at a two-hour community meeting Thursday at the Mary Winspear Centre.
“Currently, Sidney has only three square feet of grocery store per resident.”
Adjacent to the Gateway grocery store would be 20,000 square feet of pharmacy and appliance retail space.
Laughlin said Omicron is talking with two major Canadian food retailers to form its anchor store, which could range from 30,000 to 50,000 square feet in a development worth almost $35 million and covering 100,000 square feet.
But Laughlin stressed that the aim of Gateway is to keep Peninsula shoppers in Sidney — including its downtown boutique businesses — rather than Victoria and the West Shore.
Another large grocery story is key to the development, to keeping shoppers in town and to “better products and better prices” for shoppers, he said.
“We believe the existing grocery stores in Sidney are capturing 41 per cent of the money spent on food by the residents of the local municipalities,” he said.
Tamara Sears of North Saanich said she would be happy to see a home furnishings store — Sidney has lost two in recent years — or a national women’s clothing store, but said is she is satisfied with the town’s food and pharmacy outlets.
“I’ve already got three great grocery stores,” she said.
Richard Talbot of the Support Our Sidney organization said in an email that he feared a large supermarket would “cannibalize existing sales” at Thrifty Foods, Save-On Foods and Fairway Market.
“Similarly, if a major player such as London Drugs sells pharmacy and appliances and technology products, it will eat into sales at the existing Shoppers Drug Mart, Pharmasave, Sidney Pharmacy and Save-On-Foods and take sales from The Source, Home Hardware, Capital Iron and others.”
Laughlin said existing businesses in Sidney capture about 30 per cent of retail spending — estimated at $126 million — by the residents of the local municipalities. A handout at the meeting said that Peninsula residents spend as much as $300 million in communities that offer goods and services not available in Sidney.
Omicron aims to have its rezoning application, for 10 acres of airport land leased from the federal government, ready for submission to Sidney council by April 15.
It will be accompanied by an economic impact study by Urbanics Consultants on how Gateway could affect the downtown core.
Plans include building a pedestrian overpass over the highway.
Chris Andersen, who lives on the west side of Sidney, said he welcomed the proposed shopping centre.
“I’m, quite frankly, very happy to see something developed so that we don’t have to go across the highway every time we need a pound of butter,” he said.
Andersen suggested that empty downtown storefronts reflect mom-and-pop operations that couldn’t make a go of it in prime space that should be redeveloped.
Clive Tanner, who owns two bookstores and two properties downtown, said he fears “a bloody disaster” if Gateway goes ahead. He cited 61 empty storefronts on first and second floors on Beacon Avenue, and five developments with commercial ground floors in the works.
“This is just the wrong time,” he said.
Laughlin said he doesn’t know the reason for the vacancies, or whether the previous tenants were appropriate for the community or paying rent that was too high or low.
He said Gateway would not compete with downtown businesses, mentioning 17 clothing stores, many bookshops and about a dozen cafes.
“Nobody wants to see an empty Beacon Avenue, least of all us.”