135A Street woes: 'It just costs so much money to do business around here'
The City of Surrey has long fought to fix the homelessness and drug addiction issues that have led to 135A Street's notorious reputation.
Now, shop owners near the Whalley strip say the problems are starting to affect business.
"Most of the time [homeless people] come and shoplift," said Gloria Baidoo, owner of an African-Caribbean market and beauty supply store.
"Sometimes they come around chuck needles and leave all kinds of dirty stuff, some come and hide and ease themselves on the floor, which you have to clean," the businesswoman added.
Cleaning up garbage around their shops is a daily routine for many business owners in the area and some said they've been forced to pack up and move.
"It just costs so much money to do business around here," said Eddie MacNaughton.
MacNaughton owns Motorcycle World, a family business that's been in the same location since 1999. He said the constant cleaning coupled with security expenses means it's not worth his while to stay in the area.
"We had about $8,000 worth of fence repairs last year and glass repairs from people constantly trying to break in," he said.
Nearly 10 other businesses have closed down or relocated from the area in the past year.
"Nobody is going to be here pretty soon. It's going to be a dead zone," MacNaughton said.
The Surrey Outreach Team has been patrolling the area 24-hours a day since January and said crime has been going down month by month.
There has been a 36 per cent decrease in cases of assault, a 40 per cent decrease in utter threats and no cases of sexual assault or interference so far in 2017, according to a report from the city's public safety committee.
Despite those numbers, Paul Chen, the owner of an auto repair shop just opposite the strip, said he's been facing harassment.
"They don't treat me as a person because every time I talk to them, [I say] 'Hey, could you do this? [They say] F-off, F-this.' ... I encountered couple of times racial slurs, really bad," he said.
"At the end of the day they tell me to 'go back.' ... I've been here for 27 years. Go back to what? We're all Canadians," said Chen, who said he's reported the incidents to police.
The businessman has also invested thousands installing surveillance cameras and fences around his shop.
Still, Chen said he's looking to sell the building — property he bought just two years ago.
However, there is some optimism shining from one shop corner.
Mike Nielsen, owner of Sprite Multimedia Systems, is part of the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association.
He believes things are going to improve.
"The area is going through a transition stage. We are working really hard to help the challenged people in the neighbourhood to find some housing — to get some help with their drug addictions and such," said Nielsen, whose store has been in the same spot for 34 years.
"Give us another few years and this is going to be the new downtown key area."
Nielsen, who doesn't plan on moving despite the challenges, said it will take hard work to improve the community.
But in his opinion, it'll be worth it.
"I believe in this neighbourhood. I really do," he said.