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Business turnover continues on Kelowna’s popular downtown strip

BlackFish Apparel with a "sold" sign along Bernard Avenue in Kelowna.
BlackFish Apparel with a "sold" sign along Bernard Avenue in Kelowna.

“For lease” and "for sale" signs are a common site in downtown Kelowna these days as business turnover continues along Bernard Avenue.

At Blackfish Apparel, owner Chris Murphy is closing down her store since new international owners of her building raised her rent, she said.

It’s since been bought by another set of owners so she may consider staying if they lower the price but Murphy is also considering having a pop-up shop if the lease negotiations fall through, in one of the other for-lease locations downtown.

“Another bearing factor is the homelessness, dealing with all the garbage we’re dealing with down here,” she said.

It’s scaring her customers, she said.

“I’ve been in this location 10 years and the last five have been horrendous. They were on my roof camping, can you imagine if one fell off?”

Theft is also an ongoing problem, she said, adding that while restaurants may benefit from being on Bernard Avenue, she wouldn’t recommend retailers open there.

A "for lease" sign on a building along Bernard Avenue in Kelowna.
A "for lease" sign on a building along Bernard Avenue in Kelowna.

The same company that bought the Blackfish Apparel building also bought the Downtown Shoe Store next door, which has now closed permanently.

In the restaurant side of Bernard Avenue, there’s a more positive attitude for the downtown strip.

Fernando’s Pub, a popular Mexican bar, will be replaced by Leopold's Tavern, known for its “dive bar” look but they consider themselves a community pub, said regional manager Dave Sauve with Leopold's.

Fernando's said it had struggled for some time and closed for the winter months due to COVID-19.

READ MORE: Popular Mexican pub in downtown Kelowna closing for good

Kelowna’s growth and more people moving from the Lower Mainland make it an attractive location for the bar chain, Sauve said.

“When we started thinking of going to Kelowna, the first thing was ‘oh man, if Fernando’s was to ever come available, that was the only spot we could open a Leo’s,’” Sauve said, adding Fernando’s was close to his heart while growing up in Kelowna.

“We want to bet big on Kelowna, we think it’s going to continue to grow,” he said. “There are so many amazing entrepreneurs and businesses and we just want to be a part of it.”

Kelowna’s location will be the 18th Leopold's Tavern in Canada.

DeVille Coffee also recently took over the former Starbucks location on Bernard Avenue. It has seven locations in Calgary, according to its Facebook page. Doc Willoughby’s' former owner also sold its restaurant to BNA Brewing Co. and Skinny Duke's Glorious Emporium owners earlier this year.

READ MORE: Popular downtown Kelowna watering hole Doc Willoughby's has been sold

DeVille Coffee recently opened a new location in the former Starbucks on Bernard Avenue.
DeVille Coffee recently opened a new location in the former Starbucks on Bernard Avenue.

The turnover is a classic evolution of Kelowna’s downtown, said Downtown Business Association executive director Mark Burley.

“Even in malls, stores change all the time.... people move on and people move in,” he said. Starbucks left its location as part of a corporate decision to move out of downtown cores to focus on drive-thru locations, he said.

“We spoke with one new business owner to downtown Kelowna who was looking to new brick and mortar as opposed to working out of the house and chose downtown because of the central location and because it’s busy,” he said.

Downtown on Bernard has lost a few businesses because of the pandemic but it has since been slowly filling up, he said.

Doc Willoughby
Doc Willoughby's Pub has changed owners in the last year.

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