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Closure of Diamond Bakery highlights business challenges in Chinatown

After 30 years in business, Diamond Bakery, one of Chinatown’s most well-known bakeries, closed over the July long weekend.

The bakery, which served up favourites like egg tarts, pork buns and pineapple buns, was a long-time fixture for members of the Chinese community and especially for emigres from Hong Kong.

“It’s very, very meaningful because the place was actually here even before I landed in Calgary,” said Sukey Wong, administrator for the Chinatown BIA.

“This is actually something that tastes so close to what I tasted in Hong Kong, and I guess it’s actually the same thing for all the Calgarians, especially the ones that who have been here for long enough that actually normally go there and get some buns for breakfast and dessert, and stuff like that.”

For Wong, the loss of the bakery is a loss of her childhood memories, and for the wider business community in Chinatown, emblematic of one of the business issues facing the community.

Prior to his retirement on July 2, Diamond Bakery owner Henry Chan had sought a buyer for the bakery but was unsuccessful.

Chan politely declined an interview with LWC, saying in Mandarin that he didn’t think his English was strong enough to be interviewed.

Ward 7 Councillor Terry Wong said that business in Chinatown has been changing and that the current generation of young Chinese Canadians weren’t taking over long-running family businesses.

“The succession is not there. Therefore, when they looking to sell it to somebody, they’re also looking for retirement. A nest egg is out of the equation because unfortunately, the market is not in the place that they want,” he said.

“Consequently, they’re either holding out and not really investing in the business or walking away and nothing’s left.”

Broader outlook needed for a thriving Chinatown said councillor

Coun. Wong said that there is a need to rebrand Chinatown in order to bring in new investment.

“It’s not that we’re necessarily dying, but we’re not thriving. So the question is, what are the different strategies that the city can help from; this is a local economy perspective that will get people to recognize this is actually a place to invest,” Wong said.

“I’ve often said current Chinatown has to be clean, safe and secure. The city needs to do their best to get in there and help them keep it clean, but the merchants and the property owners themselves have to do the same.

“If it’s not, people will say, ‘Oh, no, not going.’ So that is just something that we need to get our people to fully recognize.”

Other issues facing businesses are increased competition from surrounding business areas, such as Crescent Heights and Kensington, and the parking rates in Chinatown that disincentivize people shopping.

“There’s a lot of parking in Chinatown. We have to establish a rate that incentivizes people to come,” Wong said.

Sukey Wong said that the BIA has been trying to work with the city to get cheaper rates and incentivized rates for the parking lots in the area.

The Calgary Parking Authority is currently running a lucky 88 rate at Lot 88, but that hasn’t been enough she said to tip the balance towards getting customers back.

“The merchants actually think ‘oh, I might move on to somewhere else, I’ve got free parking or cheaper parking,'” she said.

Wong said that overall, addressing the parking issue alongside the increased efforts by the BIA to hold events to attract visitors, is a movement towards a solution to attracting business and long-term customers.

“We’re hoping that because of that one-day experience, that will actually bring them back for the future,” she said.