Surrey thrift store in need of new space

A Surrey thrift store is facing a potential move after a warning that its rent could double next spring.

SEVA Thrift Store has been located at 9430 120 St. for the past six years, and now the society is looking for a more affordable space.

Raj Arneja, part-time manager and chair of the SEVA society’s board, said as there’s not much they can do about a rent increase, they’re “actively looking if we can get something at a reasonable rate.”

“We would rather move than close our doors because of what we’ve worked for.”

But the issue is finding a big enough commercial space to rent, Arneja added.

“We need space. That’s the biggest thing.”

She said it’s about more than just finding a building with a visible storefront.

“We must ensure it is accessible for the community we serve, for the volunteers that rely on their work with us for skill building, networking, social support and community integration, and then the physical renovating of the interior: rebuilding walls, storage, and shelving inside the store.”

She said when they moved into their current space, it cost about $60,000 to set it up.

“To move this place — as it is — is a huge undertaking. We just don’t have the staff to do it. All of us have full-time jobs and how are we going to do that? This whole thing was just a shell.”

The society was told verbally by their landlord their rent would be doubling to $13,000 from $6,500. The Now-Leader reached out to the landlord, who confirmed he approached the society about an increase but wouldn’t answer any other questions.

Currently – and unlike residential rentals – there are no caps for commercial rental increases.

Anita Huberman, president and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said she’s been hearing about sizeable commercial rental increases throughout Surrey and Metro Vancouver because of rising costs and property tax increases and other fee increases.

“Landlords, property managers are having to pass on that increased cost to their renters. It’s a common theme I’m hearing about,” Huberman said. “It’s anywhere from three to five per cent, but I haven’t heard about double-rent increases like that.”

Parbinder Narman, the society’s treasurer, said she was told of the potential rent increase in April.

“The initial reaction was, ‘Oh, we’re going to have to shut down,’” she said, adding that if they stayed in their current location most of the money made at the thrift store would go toward paying rent.

And it’s been recently that SEVA has started to get back to pre-COVID sales, she said.

“But basically that little bit better in sales we’ve done is just going to go into the increase in rent.”

Inder Randhawa, the SEVA Thrift Store manager, said it’s been an accomplishment to make it through COVID.

“We thought that was a crisis and now to make it through and actually get back on our feet again and then be hit with this one now,” Randhawa explained. “To throw a wrench in there and start from scratch again, it’s a huge undertaking. It’s a very daunting task at the moment.”

In the years since it’s opened, SEVA has donated a total of $75,000 to support local groups and organizations – including $10,000 the first year the thrift store opened.

But Narman said that’s only the society’s measurable success.

“We’ve donated this much money. But there’s also the unmeasurable success that you just can’t even put a price on,” she explained, noting women who have volunteered at the store have gone on to have successful careers, they’ve kept clothing out of landfill and have volunteer opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds.

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