After 24 years, it is the end of an era for The Irish Heather’s longtime presence in Vancouver’s Gastown district, but not the end of the storied establishment.
The Irish gastropub announced today its final day of operations at its current location at 210 Carrall Street will be Sunday, April 4, 2021.
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In an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized, owner and operator Sean Heather said the economic impact of COVID-19 forced his small business to consider alternative scenarios that would offer the best possible fighting chance for survival.
He puts the obstacle with remaining at the current location at 210 Carrall Street squarely on the issue of rising rents to the point that it is no longer feasible to remain.
The yet-to-be-announced downsized location for The Irish Heather, he says, will have rent that is nearly $10,000 lower per month compared to the existing location. He hinted the new location is further to the east within Strathcona.
“That is going to take a lot off the bottom line for me, and pretty much guarantee that we can make it until it’s busy again,” he said.
“If I were to stay in Gastown, with the way the rents are and where they’re going, I don’t think I’ll make it.”
He calls himself lucky for having the opportunity to step back, unlike other businesses that have already shut down or are approaching that point of desperation. He wants to ensure the establishment can be a passable legacy to at least one of his five children.
“I feel badly for people who can’t make this transition, and there’s also those who have already gone by the wayside,” said Heather.
“The hit to the restaurant industry has been absolutely atrocious, people are losing their livelihoods and homes… what you have to survive is what you’ve got after selling your business, and people have watched what they’ve achieved whittled down and down.”
While COVID-19 is the nail in the coffin for many restaurants, he says the troubles began long before the pandemic, with rising property taxes passed onto businesses.
“The rents and taxes on businesses are crippling. There needs to be something different because before COVID-19, a lot of us were struggling… Some received a subsidy as a lifeline and they made it, but the heavy taxes have always been an issue,” he said.
“I don’t think it is going to be an automatic comeback for the industry after COVID-19 is over.”
Heather asserts that without real change that effectively results in a stabilization of rent and taxes, more restaurants will close independent of the pandemic. Despite the depressed economic conditions, the price of goods has also been escalating.
“The customer is jaded, you can’t pass on the increased costs to the customer anymore. The customer doesn’t have the money to spend on it either, so at some stage there has to be a balancing act. Something has got to change, and something has got to level out,” he continued.
Much has been said over the past year on the accelerated decline of Gastown from the spillover of the Downtown Eastside’s social issues, but Heather says this was not a factor in his decision.
“I’ve been through the bad, the good, and the bad again, and certainly COVID-19 shuttering all the businesses didn’t help the neighbourhood. I’ve never been daunted by that,” he said.
“I’ve always found a way to make a living in this area, be respectful to people around me… I don’t know if it’s me being Irish, but I think being in Gastown has never been an issue for me.”
This is not The Irish Heather’s first relocation.
It first opened in 1997 across the street within where L’Abattoir is currently located, and in 2011 it relocated to its current location.
“We’ve got a bit of a nomad in us, we think the brand has legs. We think most people will follow where we’re going,” added Heather.
Property records show The Irish Heather’s current building changed hands in May 2019 in a deal worth $10.85 million. The three-storey building with about 7,000 sq ft in gross leasable area is assessed for $9.9 million, with $8.4 million from the land and $1.5 million from the 1912-built structure.