Halifax small businesses told to relocate to make way for Robie Street bus lanes

Halifax is proceeding with plans to widen Robie Street and implement a transit corridor on both sides from Young to Quinpool, but two small business owners say the project is moving forward at their expense.

Princess Octavious Gbana, owner of P3 Hair and Beauty Supplies, and Mark Giffin, owner of The Coastal Cafe next door, say they have received letters from the landlord they share informing them they’d have to move out by Aug. 31 because the city had purchased both buildings.

“It was shocking,” Gbana said on Thursday. “I felt like it wasn’t enough time, so I went into panic mode at first.”

Approved by regional council in 2019, the first phase of the project added transit priority lanes to most of Robie Street between Quinpool and Young and on Young Street between Robie and Windsor.

A map shows the plan for adding transit priority lines on Robie Street and Young Street.
An outline of Halifax’s plan for the Robie-Young Street transit corridor. Work on Phase 2, which will require the widening of Robie Street from Almon to Cunard to make room for additional bus lanes, is ongoing. (City of Halifax)

But for the second phase, some parts of Robie will need to be widened to ensure the new bus lanes can be built on both sides of the street.

In a statement, the city said “the municipality is engaging with landowners to acquire property along this corridor” to complete the project, but that it cannot speak to details surrounding confidential negotiations.

Once complete, the bus lanes will reduce congestion on Robie Street and improve transit travel time and reliability, the city says.

The storefronts of Coastal Cafe and P3 Hair and Beauty Supplies are seen in this photo.
The Coastal Cafe, right, and P3 Hair and Beauty Supplies are both affected by the city’s plans to widen Robie Street to make way for transit priority lines. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

For Gbana, the news came as a total surprise. Her business caters predominantly to Black women. Many come from across the province to visit the store.

“It’s not just a business for me.… I’ve built relationships with everyone. All my clients [are] like sisters”

She’s been in the space since 2019 and has built a community around the shop in the years since opening.

But in those four years, the rental market in Halifax has only become more competitive, with prices rising and vacancies getting harder to come by.

After a lengthy search, Gbana signed a new lease on Barrington Street this week. She said she plans to move her business there as soon as possible.

But her new monthly rent will make it harder to break even. She said it’s four times as expensive as what she’s currently paying on Robie Street.

Coastal closing after 16 years

The Coastal Cafe opened in 2007 on Robie Street grew to be a popular brunch spot in its 16 years of operation.

Owner Mark Giffin knew the writing was on the wall, having first heard about the possibility of the city buying the property in December 2022.

But he said that doesn’t make it any easier for him to close the restaurant.

“I put a lot of money into that place and it’s just all gone… I sunk 16 years into that place and it’s just been taken away.”

He wished the city had reached out to him directly to explain what was happening, instead of having to wait to hear the news from his landlord.

“I get that Robie has to be widened… I would just hope that the city would approach the affected businesses directly,” he said.

Giffin said his business was already struggling due to pandemic losses, but that he’d managed to stay afloat until now.

With the news that he needs to be out by the end of August, Giffin said he’s made the decision to close his restaurant permanently at the end of May.

“It’s just too expensive to rent,” he said. “I’ve spent my life savings into keeping the doors open.”

Both Giffin and Gbana say they feel they have few options but to accept the hand they’ve dealt with.

Each said they’d like some form of compensation, but weren’t optimistic about getting it from the city.

“I think they should have communicated with us, primarily, and I also think they should compensate… because I was lucky to find a space, but it has eaten into so much,” said Gbana.

A Google Streetview image of Robie Street.
The city is also planning to widen the section of Robie Street between North and Cunard. (Google)

It’s unclear if other businesses or tenants will be affected by the city’s efforts to widen Robie Street.

In addition to the portion of the street between Almon and North, where P3 and the Coastal are located, the city also plans to add another bus lane between North and Cunard, a project that will also require the street to be widened.

When asked for more information on this, the city declined to comment, again stating that discussions with landowners in the area are confidential.

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