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Downtown Chilliwack merchants plagued by smash-and-grab thefts

Problem not unique here as BIA of B.C. organization declares an ‘epidemic of property crime’
Creekside Home Decor owner Kimberley Byers outside her Chilliwack Wellington Avenue store on Nov. 10, 2022. The store was broken into for the third time since May in early November, and she is standing in front of a temporary mural painted on plywood over where a window was smashed by thieves. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

Sometimes the perception of property crime can belie the reality, but downtown Chilliwack business owners are having windows smashed and merchandise stolen all too often.

It’s not just a perception, it’s real.

When thieves smashed the window at Creekside Home Decor on Wellington Avenue two weeks ago, it was the third time in four months the store was hit.

Owner Kimberley Byers said in the 20 years she has worked there – she took over as owner in 2020 – she’s never seen anything like it.

“It’s absolutely worse,” Byers said of the property crime and theft so far in 2022.

Back in May, thieves stole about $5,000 worth of jewelry from a display case. She got hit again in late June or early July for a similar amount, and this time lost about $2,000.

“How many more times can you do this?” she asked.

Just weeks before the theft at Creekside, Mary’s On Wellington was similarly broken into, product stolen. And Byers said Wellington Natural Health had a rock thrown at their window recently, and there was also a smash-and-grab at Lolly’s.

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The problem is real but it is far from unique to Chilliwack. Last week the Business Improvement Areas of B.C. (BIABC) issued a press release calling on higher levels of government to do more to help with the “property crime epidemic.”

“While BIAs have stepped in, what we really need is our municipal and provincial governments to step up and help support our business communities,” BIABC president Teri Smith said. “By not coming to the table, governments are in effect downloading these costs directly onto the backs of individual business owners whose viability is threatened as a result of current conditions.”

Smith’s comments, and the BIABC press release, was specifically directed towards increased incidents in the 22 BIAs within the City of Vancouver.

Downtown Chilliwack BIA executive director Trevor McDonald said he’s spoken with other BIA directors across the province who have stories that are actually worse.

“It is important to note that these occurrences are happening in every community all over the country,” McDonald told The Progress. “Ours is no exception, but I feel we are working very hard together at every level in our community, to find solutions to these issues.”

McDonald said open lines of communication between the merchants and the BIA, the RCMP and city hall, all help to alleviate the problem and he wants to be proactive rather than reactive.

“Because of my long history living here, I take any incident personally,” he said. “The business owners and merchants in many cases are my friends and there is an added personal passion to finding long term solutions to assist the building owners and merchants here.”

As for Byers, she is feeling exasperated at the repeated break-ins, which don’t only cost money for lost merchandise and broken windows, but cause stress for her and her employees. Then there is the insurance issue. She made a claim for the theft in May but didn’t for the second claim, worried her insurer would cut her off.

She might be right to be worried.

“In many cases, businesses can no longer access insurance, or they are paying out of pocket to keep their premiums from sky-rocketing any further,” Smith from the BIABC said. “And that doesn’t even touch upon the emotional toll that the rampant crime and safety issues are having on business owners and their employees. They need a lifeline.”

Examples of what could be tried, according to the BIABC, are funding assistance programs to mitigate street level issues similar to pandemic grant relief programs. This could and should be implemented by local and provincial governments, they say.

“A recent Vancouver example was the approval of graffiti abatement grant funding in the amount of $500,000 provided to the Vancouver BIAs to assist with the citywide impacts of increasing graffiti,” the BIABC press release noted. “The City of Victoria also provided funding to the Downtown Victoria Business Association to create a security and vandalism grant, which enabled businesses or property owners to enhance their security through various means, such as installation of security systems or anti-shatter window film.”

McDonald said he has spoken with Smith about this and many other topics, and he supports the BIABC in looking at possible additional funding options for businesses subject to these crimes.

“As we are all aware, this has been a long road for businesses all over and if we can help alleviate the burden, let’s look at options.”

Despite the frustration felt, there has been a positive community response to the break-ins.

After Mary’s window was smashed, The Bookman owner Amber Price across the street dug out a piece of art work for Mary Urquhart to cover it up with. And after Creekside’s latest window smash, Price said that Lise Monique Oakley of the Chilliwack Mural Festival painted the plywood covering the window black and then Marianne Palmer Art painted a winter wonderland as a temporary mural.

“We are grateful,” Byers said. “At least it’s cheery.”

Price and others also used social media to encourage people to go shop at businesses affected by these crimes, something that people have been doing.

“Please stop by and do a little local shopping at Creekside this week to support this small business and show them some community spirit!” Price wrote on Facebook.

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