A decade-old Coquitlam shop could be forced to shutter its doors after the city pulled its business licence, citing a fire code violation and the illegal operation of a business within a business.
Consign-It operator Andrea Doerksen says the fire-code violation is the result of a 2009 oversight at city hall and the business-within-a-business claim is just plain false.
According to Doerksen, in June, a city inspector made an unannounced visit to the Austin Avenue store and said the two-year-old sliding glass door joining the consignment shop and Spikes Barber Shop wasn't an adequate fire barrier. The inspector then told Doerksen that her in-house picture framer, Faye Madill, who started work in May, was operating an illegal side business within the shop.
The inspector left and both women said they didn't hear from the city again until two weeks ago, when they each received a $500 fine for operating unlicensed businesses. The next week, they were both fined $500 again.
"This is how they tell us they cancelled our license?" Doerksen said.
"The sliding door was built and approved by the city in 2009," said her mother, Kay Doerksen, has owned Consign-It for 11 years and was at Coquitlam city hall Wednesday to dispute the $2,000 in penalties. "So why it's coming up suddenly now, I just can't understand."
Spikes owner Judy Sanchez has owned the barbershop on the other side of the glass door for seven years. Before the door was installed two years ago, there was no barrier and the city didn't have a problem with that, Sanchez said. But now, both businesses have been told to either build a wall or install steel doors that have to remain closed to prevent the spread of fire from one business to the next.
That would cripple both businesses, Sanchez said, as they rely on each other for crossover customers. "We do a lot of cross business where ladies getting their hair coloured will come into the consignment shop or husbands go shopping while their wives get haircuts," Sanchez said.
"And we feel safer," Andrea Doerksen said. "When I'm alone in the shop, I leave the door open and feel much safer knowing there's someone in the barber shop. But they don't care about our safety."
She added that Consign-It heard nothing from the city between the time the inspector came and the fines arrived. "They just fined us to say we don't have a licence anymore," she said.
Coquitlam city solicitor Heather Bradfield told The Tri-City News that because the city discovered that Consign-It is closed on Mondays while the barbershop is open, the sliding door breaches the provincial fire code.
"You're required by B.C. building codes to have a one-hour fire barrier between adjoining businesses," Bradfield said. "But there's a little bit of flexibility when the businesses share the same hours."
But Andrea Doerksen said the barbershop hasn't changed its hours since opening and Consign-It has been closed on Mondays "since the very beginning."
And as for Madill's frame-building workbench, Bradfield said the city still considers it a separate business that must be licensed as such.
"The inspector basically called me a liar when I told her I work for the store," Madill said. "I don't have a separate sign or a name for this, it's just a department in the shop."
Both the shop owners and the city said they hoped these issues would be resolved without any business closures but Andrea Doerksen said they can't afford the fire doors to keep the business going nor the fines that will keep coming without them.
"The fines are killing me - that's the bottom line. And city hall initially approved the doors and these businesses so they should pay to fix it."
In a meeting Thursday with Coquitlam building permits manager Doug Vance, Andrea Doerksen said, the idea of installing a drop-down fire barrier over the sliding door was discussed as a possible compromise to the fire-code issue but that the problem of who would pay for the installation was still up in the air. According to Doerksen, Vance told her that when the city first inspected the sliding door, it only checked it for structural integrity and not for fire-code compliance.
Vance did not respond to The Tri-City News before press deadline Thursday.