Popular Burnaby ice cream shop forced to raise prices amid skyrocketing costs
Along with a 60% increase in rent, Glenburn Soda Fountain is now struggling with the rising cost of milk and butter.
The owners of a quintessential Burnaby ice cream joint have had to make a tough decision in the face of rising rents and the cost of goods.
Glenburn Soda Fountain owner Roberta LaQuaglia took to Instagram last week to explain to her loyal customers the business’ move to raise prices on some of their famous ice creams, sundaes, sodas, and milkshakes by $0.50-$1.50.
LaQuaglia told the Beacon that the shop has had to deal with a nearly 60% increase in its rent amid faltering revenues due to the pandemic—and now, with the price of milk and butter skyrocketing, the situation had become untenable.
“At the end of 2020, we had to renew our lease, and we had to renew it at a higher rate. They initially started out with wanting us to double, basically a 100% increase of our rent. We negotiated that we couldn’t do that right away, and we were able to get it put down to about the 55-60% range,” LaQuaglia said.
“So 2021 was tough. … We had to take on additional debt to try to keep going through it and keep things operating. And it’s just kind of like the straw that broke the camel’s back in a way, with all the recent cost increases that maybe under normal times, we could have [borne]. But it’s just too much to keep going the way we were.”
LaQuaglia said it’s tough to accurately gauge the individual impacts of COVID, delivery apps, space constraints, and inflation over the past two years. But she estimates that increases in the cost of milk and butter mean a tub of ice cream costs $15-20 more than it did before the pandemic.
“That’s about [a] 25% [increase] in some cases. So it’s a pretty big chunk of any profit that we could make on that ice cream… we try to do a lot with our ice cream to add value, but that base cost of ice cream just really kind of hit in one big go, I think it was back in February.”
The terms of their lease, of course, have been the biggest difficulty for Glenburn Soda Fountain.
When they tried to negotiate with their landlord, they were told that the new rent was in line with newer developments in the neighbourhood. But there’s one problem: the one-storey building they’ve leased out for nearly a decade is actually about eighty years old, according to the BC Assessment.
LaQuaglia said while the building definitely doesn’t have the “bells and whistles” of the newer developments around Hastings St, she understands that her landlord may have seen an increase on their property tax. She also agrees that it’s a one-storey building in an area filled with three- or four-storey buildings, which may impact the revenue a property owner can earn.
But that doesn’t make the hit to her business any softer.
She wishes BC would look at putting in a rent control policy for commercial tenancies, much like the one in place for residential tenancies that cap the amount a landlord is allowed to increase rent each year (in line with inflation). This year, residential landlords could increase rents by 1.5%.
No such policy exists for commercial properties, however.
LaQuaglia knows of several other businesses that have also been hit with huge increases in the Burnaby Heights area.
“I think a lot of the small guys are [saying]: ‘I don’t want to have to look for a new place, I don’t want to have to uproot my whole business that I’ve invested all my money in, or maybe I don’t have the money to relocate to another place.’ It’s not simply like packing up your furniture and moving to a new place,” she said.
“I feel like it is an area that needs some attention, because it does seem to be squeezing us pretty bad. And a lot of us are just kind of silently dealing with this. And I don’t think it’s for the good of our industry, for sure.”
When she posted to Instagram, it was with the intention of letting Glenburn customers know that the idea of price increases wasn’t just to make a few more dollars off of them. So far, people have been extremely understanding.
Customers came in over the weekend concerned that the business would be shutting down, and some Instagram commenters even wondered if they could start a “suspended ice cream program”—where customers could ‘pay it forward’ to buy an ice cream for someone else.
LaQuaglia said it was heartwarming to see that kind of generosity at a time when the general public has been feeling the pinch in cost increases in many aspects of their lives—from housing, to gas, to ice cream as well.
As for Glenburn, she says the well-known Burnaby establishment has a lot of work to do to keep its head above water over the next little while.
The business had to adapt quickly to keep afloat when the pandemic started—but that’s taught LaQuaglia that they can do what they need to in order to survive.
“We never thought we would have to sell our ice cream online, or through our website, or anything like that when we started,” she said.
“So, you know, who knows what the future holds? We just want to be around to see it.”