Google’s definition of “perception” includes two parts.  One part defines it as a way of regarding or interpreting something, listing synonyms that include impression, judgement and estimation.

The other part defines perception as the ability to see, hear or become aware of something through the senses, and includes synonyms such as knowledge, understanding and appreciation.

Perhaps the variation within that definition itself helps to explain the varied perception that people have about the commercial landscape of downtown Chilliwack. Some people make judgements based on quick impressions, while others take time to gather knowledge and appreciate what’s really going on.

Despite what you may see on social media or hear in certain circles, the downtown core does has a strong commercial base with many successful businesses and an average-to-low vacancy rate. There are not boarded up buildings on every corner, businesses are not fleeing, and the social issues have not made the area unsafe to work or visit.

Downtown is not without its issues, and there is certainly a visible element to the social side of those issues, but this is often incorrectly associated with a lack of safety. The truth is, there are thousands of people that own or work at reputable businesses that spend their working days downtown without incident, not to mention the many loyal customers that help keep them in business.

As of mid-January, there are approximately 320 commercial spaces with either an open businesses or active preparations for a new businesses to open soon. A quick inventory showed another 57 commercial units that are available for lease but currently sit vacant.

While 57 open spaces may seem like a high number, it really means that 85% of downtown spaces are currently occupied. In other words, for every 17 active businesses you walk past, you could see 3 vacant spaces. That percentage is fairly consistent with Chilliwack on the whole, and even better than some “non-downtown” commercial zones in the area.

Unfortunately, the economic landscape has changed considerably over the past decade, first with the dominance of big box, then with brick and mortar outlets giving way to online shopping. Many small businesses have had to significantly adjust their model to stay afloat, or end up closing their doors all together.

The majority of downtown businesses operate in locally-owned commercial properties that do not have large corporate or national support. A number of these properties feature older buildings that, while offering a warm, historical feel to the area, become more difficult to maintain as they age. Property owners often struggle to find the balance between affordable lease rates and rates that can help offset increasing maintenance costs.

As if running a small, independent business wasn’t challenging enough, add in the out-pouring of misinformation negative judgement about downtown Chilliwack, and it is quite the uphill battle for both entrepreneurs and property owners in the area.

Perhaps we should look up the definition of perseverance.