Airdrie businesses struggle as rent skyrockets

Commercial rental costs are out of control in Airdrie

Struggles of small: Erin Jensen, owner of Burtons Buttons, shows off her second-hand children’s store in Airdrie Alberta on Jan.29. Jensen is one of the many local businesses struggling to keep up with the costs of rent. (Photo by Abbey Whitehead/The Press)

The price of commercial rent in Airdrie has many local businesses struggling to pay the bills. 

According to the findings from Airdrie’s Growth Report, commercial rent prices are anticipated to surge at least five per cent throughout 2024, further intensifying the challenges businesses face in the area.

One such business feeling the squeeze is Burtons Buttons, a thrift store specializing in children’s items, which is renowned for its commitment to sustainability through the upcycling and recycling of clothing, toys, and nursery essentials.

However, with rents on the rise, the viability of such enterprises is called into question, despite their efforts to divert waste from landfills and breathe new life into discarded items.

“I wonder sometimes if we should have done something differently,” said owner Erin Jensen. “You come to know all these little things that don’t necessarily make it seem like you are doing the right thing anymore.”

Currently, average leasing rates for retail spaces in Airdrie range between $14 to $23 per square foot, while office spaces command prices of $15 to $20 per square foot. 

Projections from Airdrie’s Growth Report suggest that these figures could skyrocket to as high as $27 per square foot for office spaces and $30 for retail spaces, placing immense strain on businesses already grappling with soaring operational costs. 

Rising rents: A chart demonstrating the average leasing prices within the city. Source: City of Airdries website.

The current lease prices in Airdrie are comparable to rates in the beltline of Calgary but with far less foot traffic. 

“I’ve been told that the rent for my space is the same as what they pay in downtown Calgary,” said Jensen. 

“There needs to be a cap on commercial rent.” 

Marilyne Aalhus, the executive director of Airdrie Chamber of Commerce also expressed how businesses are struggling with the higher costs of rent within the city. 

 “I know that it’s been extremely challenging for a lot of small businesses to be able to afford the higher level lease rates that are comparable to cities like Calgary,” said Aalhus. “Some people think when you’re doing business in Airdrie, you’re going to save a lot of money, but you simply aren’t, unfortunately.”

Aarhus also expressed how some small businesses within Airdrie find themselves setting up in industrial spaces due to the cheaper lease rates. 

“What I’m noticing is people are trying to get creative, and they’re taking businesses that would probably be better suited in a high-traffic area, and putting them in industrial spaces in Airdrie,” said Aalhus. “Those leases are more affordable, but then they’re not getting the same traffic that they anticipate.”

Airdrie remains among the most rapidly growing municipalities in Canada, witnessing a 26.8 per cent rise in population since 2016, a 22 per cent increase in business licenses granted over five years, and a 44 per cent increase in employment from 2016 to 2022. 

Since 1999, Airdrie’s population has tripled, reaching over 80,000 citizens. It currently sits at 84,752. 

Population Growth: This graph demonstrates the population increase over the past 50 years. Source: City Of Airdrie.

This rapid expansion has led to a scarcity of available commercial real estate, with traditional office and retail spaces now nearing full occupancy following a surge in vacancies experienced in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There really aren’t that many commercial spaces popping up,” said Aalhus “We want businesses to fill those spaces. But because they do fill as quickly as they do, the developers have the ability to raise the price. So it just comes down to supply and demand.”

Airdrie currently has 100 acres of commercial and mixed-use lands available for immediate service, with another 400 acres of industrial land, creating the opportunity for more businesses to set up shop. 

Airdrie is also working on a downtown revitalization plan, dedicated to supporting local businesses that wish to expand and create areas for new investments within the city.  

The Chamber of Commerce, as well as the City of Airdrie, are also ready to help businesses succeed with the increased prices. 

“We do host workshops and education. We do try to make sure that our members consider using commercial Realtors just because you want to use experts within the field to help you find the right spaces and to negotiate those leases,” said Aalhus. “But to be fair, the city of Airdrie are the ones that are taking on a little bit more of that responsibility.” 

The city has launched a program called Right for Your Business, which offers financial planning, management and cash flow, human resources and workforce, marketing strategy and planning, and legal assistance.  

“Our biggest advocacy piece right now is working with the city and trying to bring newer developments into this community,” said Aalhus. “Developers may not change their lease prices until there are more offerings out there.”

Shopping local: Erin Jensen in one aisle of Burtons Buttons. The store contains everything from newborns to maternity. (Photo by Abbey Whitehead/The Press)
About Abbey Whitehead 4 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Abbey Whitehead is working as a writer for The Press in 2024.