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The latest retail trend? Go small — it’s cheaper in big expensive cities

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Customers who don’t work in the building that houses Kento Kitayama’s tiny cafe near Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood better be prepared to settle for takeout. He can only take orders through a little window facing the sidewalk.

Iktsuarpok Coffee Stand, which opened late last month, has no seating and sparse furnishings. Kitayama could likely stand in the middle of the roughly 17-square-metre shop and reach out to touch the sink, refrigerator and shelving unit, counter, and espresso machine that mark the shop’s boundaries without moving.

The cafe reminds the co-owner of how tobacco shops sold goods in his native Japan, but also suits his budgetary constraints. Kitayama and other business owners challenged by high rents in Canada’s two most expensive housing markets are turning to creative solutions in tiny spaces to open cafes that otherwise might not be profitable.

For a typical 85-square-metre cafe space in the city, Kitayama said he’d likely pay about $3,000 monthly. That’s unaffordable for his new business.

Robust data on average food retail lease prices in Canada doesn’t exist, but some figures help shape a sense of the market.

Last October, Toronto’s average commercial lease rate per square foot was $21.31, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board — down 1.1 per cent from the same month in 2017. But that includes all retailers, and the data is part of only 40 total lease transactions that month where the price was disclosed.

Joshua Campos, believes his less than two-square-metre shop (roughly the area of a twin mattress) may be the smallest retail store in the world. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Three of the four most expensive main streets in Canada are in Toronto and Vancouver, according to an annual report from Cushman & Wakefield. The company tracks nearly 450 of the top retail streets in 65 countries. In June 2018, rents on Toronto’s Bloor Street were $300 per square foot and $100 on Queen Street West. On Vancouver’s Robson Street rents averaged $183.

High and rising rents have caused several restaurants in both cities to shutter their doors in recent years.

Wild Rice Market Bistro in New Westminster, B.C., served its last patrons on New Year’s Eve.

“We are all familiar with our high cost of living which is reflected in higher rents, increasing food costs and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff,” proprietor Andrew Wong wrote in a note to customers, adding the restaurant “is no longer viable in our current economic climate.”

Lease prices also pose a big barrier to entry for new hopefuls like Kitayama, who have turn to smaller-scale operations in an effort to trim start-up costs.

Iktsuarpok Coffee Stand may be the newest diminutive shop, but it’s not the smallest in the country.

Joshua Campos believes his less than two-square-metre shop (roughly the area of a twin mattress) may be the smallest in the world. He’s applied for the Guinness world record, but has yet to hear back.

The Coffee Lab, which opened about seven months ago, operates out of a window in a small nook of a Toronto building. Floor-to-ceiling glass lets curious passers-by or customers see one staff member prepare drinks inside.

Campos, who previously operated a cafe out of a bookstore until the landlord sold the building, noticed a “for lease” sign in the window of what is now his new cafe.

The landlord first rejected Campos’s idea, saying the lease sign was for an office space in a different part of the building. But Campos persisted and eventually the landlord caved.

“The idea is just to keep the overhead super low,” he said.

It came with a few logistical challenges. He had to find smaller espresso machines to fit the space, while maintaining drink quality. Only one staff member can work at a time, and the cold winter slowed business as customers balked at the idea of waiting outside for their caffeine fix.

Campos has applied for a patio license and plans to build a roughly five to nine square-metre heated enclosure.

Another Toronto coffeeshop, The Nugget, is housed inside a former garage nestled between two buildings.

Co-owner Jake Holton rented the attached building to open another location of his pizza chain, Village Pizza, and asked the landlord if they cared if he converted the garage into another eatery.

The roughly 15-square-metre cafe opened July 2017, in part to help offset rent for the pizzeria, said Holton.

For such a small space, though, the monthly fee is low. Holton operates another coffeeshop, Hub Coffee, that’s considerably bigger with about 25 seats. The Nugget, aptly named for its size, pays about one-sixth in rent in comparison.

“It’s not even close,” he said.

While cheaper rent may be part of the business plan, these spaces can be a hit with customers because of their unique forms.

In the social-media age where Instagrammers hunt for the perfect shot of outrageous food or compelling backdrops, a pint-sized coffeeshop can generate buzz and draw a crowd.

“People love it,” said Holton, adding several people stop by daily and coo over the Lilliputian cafe.

“People seem to love the novelty of just having like a little walk-up counter.”

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Do you know what kind of condo you’re buying?

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(NC) Condominiums can come in all shapes and sizes. But it’s important to know that not all condos are created equal when it comes to warranty coverage.

Whether you’re buying a condominium townhouse, loft-style two-bedroom or a high-rise studio, they are all classified as condominiums if you own your unit while at the same time share access (and the associated fees) for facilities ranging from pools and parking garages to elevators and driveways, otherwise known as common elements.

The most common types of condos are standard condominiums and common elements condominiums. The determination of how a condominium project is designated happens during the planning stage when the builder proposes the project and the municipality approves it.

When you’re in the market to buy, you need to know how your chosen condo is classified because it affects the warranty coverage under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act. Standard condominiums have warranty coverage for units and common elements, but common elements condominiums only have unit coverage.

How could this affect you as the owner? If your condo complex has underground parking and, for example, there are problems with leaks or a faulty door, the condo designation will determine whether there’s warranty coverage.

If your unit is a standard condominium development, then the common elements warranty may cover the repairs. If it’s a common element condominium development, then repairs might have to be covered by the condo corporation’s insurance, which could impact your condo fees or require a special assessment on all the owners.

To avoid surprises, you should have a real estate lawyer review the Declaration and Description attached to your purchase agreement to be sure that you know the designation and boundaries of the unit you’re looking to purchase. Find more information on the types of condos and their coverage at tarion.com.

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5 savvy renovations to make your kitchen look like new

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(NC) The kitchen is the heart and focal point of any home. But if yours is looking a little tired, a few simple renovations can change the feel of the entire space.

Whether you’ve just moved in, have been meaning to update for years or are experiencing life changes, remember that a kitchen uplift doesn’t have to come with a huge price tag. These small-scale projects could be the change your kitchen needs:

  1. Brighten it up.Adding LED lights below your cabinets will brighten your backsplash and counter and provide a warm glow. Place your favourite containers below to act as focal points – those copper canisters that are hiding under the island and the marble coasters you couldn’t resist can now all be on display.
  2. Swap the old with the new.The backsplash is the first thing you see, so replacing it can be enough to give the space a whole new look. Try a unique shape or colour to change things up, like turquoise or patterned tiles, hexagon-shaped tiles or even a full slab of stainless steel.
  3. Rework what you have.People often think new cabinets are necessary for a kitchen reno, but a lot can be done with what you’ve got. Repainting the cabinets and switching out the knobs to chic new handles will do wonders for a makeover.
  4. Don’t hide away.Try adding some open shelving in an unused spot, such as above the sink or window, or next to the cabinets. Display your most beautiful dishes and add some decorative pieces to give the space a modern, airy feel.
  5. Add new materials into the mix.Changing the island to a butcher-block counter adds warmth and practicality.

Taking on a renovation can often feel overwhelming. But if you talk to your contractor about budgeting and spreading out payments through services like The Home Depot Project Loan, it can be easier than you think. The service allows you to finance any home projects, big or small and is available at locations across Canada.

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Real Estate

How to afford a home renovation that fits your life

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(NC) Changing seasons always bring about the desire to update our living spaces. But your life stage and budget can influence what kind of upgrades you can make. Here are some tips to get you started.

Assess the investment. The first step is to gauge how much value your investment will bring, whether you’re looking to sell or grow into a family home. A common misconception among home owners is that all renovations will increase a home’s value; unfortunately, this is not always the case. It’s always a good idea to strategically renovate the space to fit your life plan and goals.

Plan for both long- and short-term value. As a homeowner, it is important to assess what kind of value items can contribute to your life plan. Searching for products that are energy efficient, like an eco-friendly washing machine or water filtration system, can help you save on your monthly bills. A long-term investment, such as hardwood floors or bathroom tiles, can spruce up a living space for years to come. While sometimes this require a larger budget, the project can be both appealing to future buyers and stand the test of time in a family home.

Create a renovation budget. Once you have a clear plan, you’ll need to create a budget to align with your financial goals. Always ensure your budget includes any interest you’ll be paying. Ask multiple sources for competitive quotes.

Use a payment plan. For those high-ticket investment items, consider using a payment plan. Payment solutions such as The Home Depot Project Loan can help with bigger renovations. This allows you to stick to your budgeting goals while using a flexible payment plan to make larger purchases more accessible.

Use DIY to offset costs. In addition to using a payment plan, taking on a few safe and simple renovation projects yourself is an easy way to offset renovation costs. Your local hardware store can help source materials and provide helpful tips to make those do-it-yourself projects, such as refinishing cabinets or sanding old hardwood floors, a breeze.

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