It’s no secret commercial space is not keeping up with the population growth in Sooke.
There are approximately 750 businesses in Sooke. Many are home-based, and the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce says the lack of commercial space holds many companies back.
“Finding space is a challenge. We always hear of space being discussed that hasn’t materialized,” said Mayor Maja Tait.
The issue came back in the spotlight at last week’s council meeting when entrepreneur Ramesh Nandhini brought to light his plight to find commercial space to operate his small food business.
Nandhini started his company first as an online business importing spices from India and later began an Indian takeout restaurant known as Kurry King.
Kurry King and Jenny’s Country Pantry and Tea Shoppe operated out of the small location on Sooke Road, with Nandhini operating in the evening hours. Still, when Jenny’s closed earlier this month, Nandhini couldn’t expand due to the cost of renovations and the landlord’s refusal to help.
“I can’t find space in Sooke. Many landlords don’t have commercial space or don’t want a commercial kitchen,” said Nandhini, who’s lived in Sooke for five years after immigrating from India.
“I want to stay in Sooke.”
Council was supportive of Nandhini and said the lack of commercial space is a growing problem.
Coun. Ebony Logins said the current system doesn’t work well for start-up businesses or home-based businesses that want to expand – and there is no solution in sight in the near future.
“The new developments coming are not going to be for local businesses. They’re going to be very expensive retail space that doesn’t support people who are working and growing here,” she said.
“It’s not just about building more commercial space. We really need to think about building commercial space that supports the way our community functions, which is one of togetherness, inclusiveness and innovation.”
Tait said council has the opportunity when developers come forward to pitch their project on what they want to do and ask how their project will enhance local business opportunities.
Coun. Tony St-Pierre took it a step further, mulling the prospect of tacking on a 10 per cent fee on developments – much like the district has for its affordable housing initiate – to create a municipal fund to help build small business space.
Coun. Jeff Bateman liked the idea that both Kurry King and Jenny’s had a shared-use commissary kitchen, pointing out many municipalities are promoting the idea within their business communities.
He plans to make a motion at council’s Nov. 22 meeting asking for shared-use commissary kitchens to be included in the Community Economic Strategy in Action Plan.
“I hope we can lobby developers to build space like this into their developments,” Bateman said.
For Nandhini, it’s simpler.
“We need local people to support local businesses,” he said.