Boarded up windows, cracked glass and empty storefronts have become a noticeable eyesore along King George Boulevard in Whalley, as numerous businesses have closed their doors in recent years.
But a project spearheaded by a student intern aims to give a much-needed – and artistic – facelift to some of those storefronts in an effort to brighten up the area.
And, perhaps, to eventually brand the area as an “international district,” building on the many ethnic eateries and stores already established in the area.
“The thing that stood out to me most when I walked the area was the number of vacant storefronts, which gave the impression there wasn’t a lot going on in the area, but the area has a lot of potential,” said 21-year-old Haadia Khald, a third-year SFU student majoring in international studies, who spent her summer working at the Downtown Surrey BIA.
“By enlivening the area, I thought it would attract the attention it deserves.”
After brainstorming how she could achieve that, Khalid decided on painting the vacant storefronts.
After contacting several property owners of vacant storefronts, and securing a $3,000 grant from the City of Surrey to compliment the BIA’s $1,000 contribution, the idea became a reality and two storefronts have now been given an artsy facelift.
The first one, at 10731 King George Blvd., has been painted with purple and blue henna adorning the storefront, designed in an Indian theme. Dubbed “Mumbai Antiques” the mock shop window has urns and elephant decor painted on it. The other, at 10761 King George Blvd., was painted to look like a mock café to passersby.
“That one was quite large,” Khalid said of the “Cozy Café” design. “It has some bricks, and plants, and little windows and when you’re walking by it looks like there’s seating inside.
“It makes quite a bit of a difference because it just kind of removes that empty look from it,” she said of the art, which was painted by artist Kris Kupskay, “and it just kind of brightens up the area. When we were painting, a number of people who were walking by, just stop and look so that was interesting.”
The initiative takes inspiration from a Seattle project by Jim Dier, which also centred on painting empty storefronts to enliven an area.
While that project involved painting images that the community wanted to see in that spot – such as an ice cream parlour – Khalid’s instead aims to draw attention to and complement the area’s clustering of ethnic restaurants and grocery stores.
As a summer intern, Khalid’s work on the project has come to an end, but DSBIA manager Bonnie Burnside said the business group will try to do more.
“Part of the problem, and part of the background, is the area north of 104th Avenue in our area was really affected by 135A Street, and a lot of the businesses over the past few years have moved out,” said Burnside, noting many of these empty spaces looked “unsightly.”
“There’s so many ethnic-based businesses in that area, we’d love to be able to attract more businesses representing areas around the world, but the long-term goal is just to attract business,” she added.
“We want to make our downtown core a lively, safe place for people to come and do business.”
Burnside said it may prove hard for the BIA to continue the project in the fall, with summer interns leaving.
“It’ll be a long-term project, it’s not something we’re going to be able to do all the time, because we have to apply for funding and put some funding aside for the BIA,” Burnside elaborated.
“In the fall we’ll have two students, in the spring we’ll probably have two students, so we will try to continue on but it will probably continue next summer,” she added.
“Hopefully by then some storefronts will be rented.”
Meantime, the BIA has other revitalization projects planned for Whalley, Burnside revealed.
“We’re also going to be doing some projects along 135A Street to clean it up and make it more lively, and turn it into a more friendly street. So for example, the old Burger Brothers building, it’s just a building there (on 135A Street beside the vacant Tokachi’s Restaurant building) and it’s all stripped of paint and we’re going to work on that with Phoenix Society.”
The plan is to paint that building to improve the look of the property.