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Vancouver businesses uneasy as Occupy protest continues

A member of the Occupy Vancouver movement lays on on the ground at the front doors of the Embridge offices during a Zombie Walk throughout downtown Vancouver, B.C. Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. The Zombie walk included stops at banks and oil and gas companies.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Cindy Hamilton spent $100,000 to outfit a food truck that could produce grilled-cheese sandwiches for the downtown lunch crowd, after getting one of the coveted spots next to the Vancouver Art Gallery on Howe Street.

She kicked off her new Mom's Grilled Cheese Truck business three weeks ago. The first week was great. Then the Occupy Vancouver protest started and her orders dropped by at least 30 per cent.

That's just one of the many unintended consequences of the two-week-old protest camp that has downtown businesses increasingly uneasy about how long it will go on, especially after a meeting between the city and campers ended in a stalemate Friday.

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"I've put my life into this. This is hard," said Ms. Hamilton, unquestionably one of the 99 per cent, as she finished up another lunch-hour stint Monday.

People can't see her truck as easily as they used to because of the tents. On Monday, she was boxed in by two fire trucks. Workers in nearby offices are telling her their colleagues just don't want to come to the area any more.

And only one protester has ever ordered something from her truck.

The situation is much the same for Re-Up BBQ, which had two spots, one on Hornby by the gallery, and another on Robson. The owners decided to shut down the Hornby site, after their business also dropped by 30 to 40 per cent, and only operate on Robson.

"We had really built up the Hornby business, but people are telling us they're not fans of coming to the Occupy site so they're going over to the Bentall [on Burrard]instead," said Lindsay Ferguson, one of Re-Up's owners.

Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, said he's hearing more and more complaints like that from businesses around the gallery, especially after the weekend when several Occupy-related marches tangled up traffic.

Hotel managers were calling to say their guests were missing flights to the airport because of traffic jams and bus re-routings.

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"Their concern is longer-term impacts and inaction from the city," Mr. Gauthier said.

And he said it's hard to see what's going to happen next. Mr. Gauthier, along with deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston and housing manager Dan Garrison, met with seven Occupy Vancouver protesters Friday.

City staff were unsuccessful in getting any commitment from them about when the camp might end, whether campers might consider moving to another public space – as a few other Occupy movements have done – or even how campers will accommodate other groups scheduled to use the space in coming weeks.

Chris Waddell, a 32-year-old software programmer who was one of the Occupy people at the city meeting, said the protest group has taken a vote at its general assembly to affirm its belief that the "encampment at the Vancouver Art Gallery is an integral part of Occupy Vancouver's political expression."

When asked about their effect on local businesses, various people at the site said they did not feel they were having a negative impact. One woman, 52-year-old Maya Rose, said she had talked to servers at the Bellagio Café across the street who said their business was doing fine.

The camp has become more orderly since it started, after city officials asked for areas around the fountain to be cleared and set up fire lanes. There is now a fire-department control-room truck parked by the site at all times, with firefighters taking shifts to maintain a 24/7 watch on the camp.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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