After more than 50 years on Johnson Street, Baggins Shoes is considering moving away from the downtown core.
A recent crime spree targeting downtown stores has Baggins Shoes co-owner Tara Savrtka wondering if it’s worth staying in that location.
“It’s a little disheartening. We have great customers and a great community of people around us, but it is really difficult to have optimism and think of what Baggins will be long term when we are facing these kinds of problems consistently,” Savrtka said.
Over the last several weeks businesses have been targeted in what police have called random acts of vandalism.
The Greater Victoria Library’s Central Branch remains closed after its window was smashed sometime Tuesday night.
This is the sixth time the branch has been targeted in less than three weeks.
Vandals also smashed the windows of six stores in one night along Johnson and Government Streets last week.
While Baggins’ wasn’t targeted in that spree, it has been the target of vandalism in the past.
“Mid-January we had an incident of vandalism. We’ve had our back windows, which leads into the parking lot shared by Market Square, we have had those windows smashed three or four times over the last three years,” Savrtka said.
She added that since the store has been in located in the downtown core for more than 50 years, it has seen a lot of “versions” of downtown, but since the pandemic there has been an increase in crime.
“The pandemic shutdown really started a string of events for us,” Savrtka explained. “The amount of people downtown has drastically changed. There just aren’t as many faces, not as many people on the street and [vandalism] is easier to do when there aren’t as many people watching.”
She told CHEK News that for the first time since opening, the store installed security cameras and a security system to monitor the store.
Savrtka said over the last three years, the store’s insurance rates went from about $5,000 per year to quotes of $11,000 for the year because of the crime increase in the area.
She added that Baggins’ has already paid out thousands of dollars to replace multiple windows, adding that because the shoe store is located in a heritage building they have to follow strict requirements when replacing the windows.
“What we consider a small window, in comparison to some of our windows in the front, is a minimum $2,000,” said Savrtka.
She’s wondering if the perks of a downtown location is worth what is costing Baggins both financially and mentally, adding both owners are considering relocating the store.
“We have a year and a half left on our leases,” Savrtka said. “While at this moment in time it’s not definitive move and we don’t want to leave, if things continue the way they are and prices keep driving up more, a year and a half from now it could be very much on the stronger side of yes as we get closer to that.”
Victoria Police said they are aware of how these crimes sprees affect businesses, but there isn’t much they can do.
“The challenge is that the Victoria police can’t be everywhere,” Chief Del Manak told CHEK News. “We really are trying increase our staffing and our visibility in the downtown core to help deal with these situations, but we need all levels of government to step up.”
Marianne Alto, mayor of Victoria, said it’s sad the businesses are considering this move, adding a bustling downtown core is very important.
“You can’t have, in my view, a thriving city without a thriving downtown core and we will do everything we can to make sure that continues,” Alto said.
The City of Victoria does have funding available for businesses dealing with vandalism.
The city teamed up with the Victoria Business Association to provide a Safety Reimbursement Program.
It provides businesses one-time funding to help pay for window replacements, broken locks, doors and other high priced items.
There was $65,000 in available funds, with small grants up to 50 per cent of a business’s eligible expenses and no more than $1,000 of funding provided per business for safety or security initiatives.
The funding ended in December 2022, but the committee of the whole started the discussion on extending the funding to the end of December 2023.
That motion was passed unanimously and is now being pushed to council where it will discuss whether more money needs to be added to the pool.
“I think the fact that we see that we want to extend it for another year reflects the fact that we are doing all that we can in working with our businesses to make sure they have some additional resources,” Alto told CHEK News.
Savrtka said while having some funding available is great, it’s not enough.
“In the short term it gives toy a little bit of money back in your pocket, realistically you are worried that two weeks from now your windows are going to be broken again and then you’re going to be paying just as much,” Savrtka said.
She hopes council will consult the downtown businesses on what they would like to see added to the program in the future.