Downtown bike shop owing K in property taxes, facing possible closure

Downtown bike shop owing $30K in property taxes, facing possible closure

A local bike owner is grappling with additional expenses that has left him wondering how he will pay them off and keep his store open. 

A local bike owner is grappling with additional expenses that has left him wondering how he will pay them off and keep his store open. 

Jason Komendat, the owner of Retro-Rides on Sparks Street, told CityNews the impact  of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ‘Freedom Convoy’ occupation has left the shop’s fate hanging in the balance. 

Retro-Rides offers bike repairs, tune-ups, services and custom bikes for customers.

The shop opened in 2017, and shared the space with the Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals, which grew successful in the years that followed.

Komendat had been trying to get a bigger space, but when he noticed the Escape Tours and the bike shop were succeeding, he decided to build a cafe.

At the end of 2019, he signed a lease for the cafe space, paying for all the equipment and business plans needed for the cafe. 

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the delay of the cafe’s grand opening.

The bike shop stayed open because it was deemed an essential service during the pandemic. Komendat and his staff continued to serve clients, even focusing on same-day services, as a way to keep his business afloat during a challenging time but the cafe not so much. 

But in May of 2021, Public Works and Government Services Canada told them they had to start paying rent for the cafe space, forcing them to open the cafe, which didn’t attract as many customers because the city was still in lockdown at that time. 

“Of course, it didn’t do well, because they weren’t very many people downtown,” he explained. “We lost money for the summer of 2021 to the point that where we were putting money into the business bank to pay people’s salary.”

The cafe closed in December of 2021. 

Komendat thought 2022 was going to be the year that he could recover the business, but then came the ‘Freedom Convoy’ occupation which shut down the downtown core streets for nearly a month, and the Canada Day road closures in the following months.

“Our business was right in the heart of it, you couldn’t get any closer,” he said. “The occupation was just the final nail in the coffin and keeping Wellington closed and the bottom of Metcalfe and O’Connor closed has really hurt us because there’s no flow around our business.”

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

When they opened the cafe in May 2021, they understood they had to pay property taxes.

Komendat said there are a couple of programs in the city that helps business pay property taxes, but a property tax bill is needed first, which he said he did not receive at that time.

After several emails sent by his business partner to the City, it wasn’t until several weeks ago that he received a property tax bill of $34,000, which he knew would add up. 

“I knew that it was going to be fairly significant,” Komendat said, hoping it could have paid it if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic. “And we knew that with three businesses in one space, we could easily handle the rent, property taxes and expenses.”

But that wasn’t the case. 

“Suddenly, I’m in a place where I have this big property tax bill (which) I can’t pay – I have to do into debt to pay it,” he added. 

Public works took roughly 18 months to give his business a rent program, but by the time they did, Komendat had already invested a significant amount of money and work into the cafe space, including labour costs and electrical work.

So, in addition to the $34,000 bill, he now has to pay roughly $55,000 in back rent, leaving him at a loss of how to pay it all off. 

He has reached to local officials including mayoral candidate Catherine McKenney, who connected Komendat with the City’s deputy treasurer, who suggested programs that could help alleviate the debt, which Komendat said had expired. 

He also spoke with people at the National Capital Commission (NCC) and they said because the business’ lease is up on Oct. 31, all “outstanding arrears will go to the Collections’ Department.”

Komendat also reached out to Member of Parliament (MP) Yasir Naqvi and Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Joel Harden, but has yet to hear back. 

He hopes to move his business to the Sandy Hill area, where he anticipates the business could thrive, but he wants the City of Ottawa and the Public Works department to provide him with a 10-year payment plan where he feels he could pay it off.

Retro-Rides on Sparks Street will remain open until Oct. 31.

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