As demolition of the Winters Hotel in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood starts Thursday, businesses with storefronts in the century-old heritage building are expressing frustration after being denied access to their units.
More than 70 residents living in the single-room occupancy (SRO) housing in the upper floors of the Winters Hotel have lost their homes and all of their belongings after flames tore through the building earlier this month.
On Tuesday, the city announced it will begin demolition this week, saying the building could not be saved.
Jason Gallop, managing director at watch repair store Roldorf and Co., said he was at his store when the building erupted into flames last week.
He grabbed as many things as he could, but he's holding onto the slim hope that he'll be able to get into his store to access the rest of his customer's watches and his valuable tools.
"All of the retailers have been fighting to get back into their stores to salvage whatever they could," Gallop said.
"My tools I've been collecting since I was 17 and we're at the point now where I can't get in there to get that stuff."
Gallop said city officials have said the building is too dangerous to enter, but he has customers' items in his shop that are 'priceless.'
"I'm out here looking at the building being demolished on all the rest of the customers' goods ... and it's traumatising," he said.
Crews were supposed to start demolishing the building early Wednesday, but work was paused so police could ensure the building was clear after receiving reports someone might have gone inside the building overnight.
Elise Yurkowski with the Gastown Business Improvement Society said about seven businesses essentially lost everything in the fire, and the other three in the building were forced to close over the last week and a half.
She said approximately 300 businesses throughout Gastown are also concerned about the timeline of the project and how road closures and possible power outages will impact their business.
"These businesses have just gotten out of a global pandemic and now this," Yukowski added. "There's concerns over the timing of it all but we're assured that the city is doing everything they can to make this process as quick as possible."
Saul Schewb, chief building official for the City of Vancouver, said crews will demolish the building on Thursday and Friday, and then start cleaning up and opening roads again on Friday night.