It wasn’t the lack of revenue that caused the Free Store to close its doors.
On Monday, Saanich bylaw enforcement officers shut down the Saanich West exchange, where for the last two years members of the public have dropped off or picked up reusable items free of charge.
The unsightly state of the property – host to more than one unlicensed vehicle and outside storage – formed the basis of the action from the municipality.
David Shebib, who from 5090 West Saanich Rd. ran the store and business, Garbage Guru Hauling, with his son Andrew McLean, considers the closure a loss to the community.
“I’m not concerned that (Saanich) shut down the Free Store,” said Shebib, who ran low-key anti-establishment mayoral campaigns for Victoria and Saanich in 2011.
“My concern is that they’re not offering any alternative. They’re not recognizing that this could be a good service for the community, or putting something up at Hartland where people can recycle good stuff.”
Saanich bylaw enforcement officers have visited the “unsightly premises” 15 times since February 2011, said Doug Roberts, senior bylaw enforcement officer.
“When I say unsightly, I mean an accumulation of scrap metal, scrap lumber, disused and broken items,” Roberts said. “We can appreciate what the occupant was trying to do, unfortunately, that property is not zoned for that type of operation. I would hope that if the occupant is sincere, that he would look at another location.”
Complaints to Saanich from neighbours and motorists have reached beyond esthetics to road safety concerns due to cars turning abruptly to access the lot, as well as issues related to parking. Bylaws broken related to the number of unlicensed vehicles, the unsightly nature of the premises, garbage and business regulations.
Property co-owner Sam Sierra does’t have a problem with the Free Store, or Shebib. Sierra eventually asked Shebib to shut down the operation on July 9 for fear of placing his other properties in jeopardy. (Shebib will not technically be evicted, since McLean’s name appears on the lease.) And while he would have preferred if Shebib had kept the property cleaner, it’s not the most unsightly address in the neighbourhood, Sierra noted.
“I think he’s doing a good thing,” said Sierra, who co-owns the property with Paul Aujla. “(Bylaw enforcement officers) can’t do anything to him so they’re coming after us.”
In the last day of operation, Shebib estimates there were 150 visitors to his store.
“I’m trying to do what I think is a responsible thing and divert this stuff that’s going to the dump,” Shebib said. “It’s the 2012 version of the banning of the potlatch that’s being outlawed.”
The 68-year-old said he plans to take his fight for the Free Store to court and eventually move to Bella Coola, where he owns property. Previous to the opening of his store two years ago in Saanich, Shebib ran a Free Store on Salt Spring Island. It was also shut down.