The glass door swings open to a wet Vancouver morning as a man and his girlfriend step out of the way to let me by. Outside, fresh rain streaks my dirty face. Head down I clutch my new purchase and slowly bang it against my hand. My right hand is covered in a thick banding of masking tape acting as a impromptu bandage over cuts and fresh blisters from the morning’s work. My clothing is ripped and dirty from tearing up flooring. I look up and see a group of hipsters quickly part as they see me coming. I realize how this may look, bloody hands, dirty clothes and clutching a large crowbar walking through one of Canada’s poorest streets and I can’t help but smile. I open the metal gate and slip through the open door. Before me is my newest project…
I have found myself saying that “something needs to change” for the past year but for the longest time had no idea what that “something” was. DWP is an amazing adventure but it has taken a toll on me (health) and my personal bank account and I had to figure out a way to top up both in order for it to continue. When I started DWP I vowed to keep it administration fee free with a pledge to have 100% of the donations going to those who need it. To manage this I return to Canada every 6 months to find short term work to keep myself fed and clothed. I have found interesting employment and been given opportunities from generous employers who value what I do in India, allowing me to work for short periods before I head back to India. However, this isn’t a good, sustainable long term solution for me or DWP if I run out of energy and funds for myself. I often find myself telling others that “change is good” and three months ago I realized that it was time to take my own advice.
I come from a long line of entrepreneurs including my beloved parents. After years of saying to my father that I wasn’t interested in running their restaurant they sold the last of their places a few years ago and joined me in India. When I returned to Vancouver from Mumbai in August, riding the sky train into Vancouver, sitting beside my dad, I told him that I’m ready to start a business here in Vancouver. This venture required a personal loan and my commitment to a lease.
Days after my arrival home, my girlfriend (Salomeh) and I began to walk around downtown Vancouver peering in to empty storefronts and looking for the “perfect” place while my parents began to scour East Van, Commercial Drive and Main St. for a space. Phone call after phone call ensued and my heart skipped a beat as I realized just how expensive a proposition this was going to be. As the agents stated the rent over the phone I day- dreamed in rupees and Indian prices. As I got over the initial shock of Vancouver’s pricey retail rental market I began to realize that downtown may not be an actual option. I rode my bike to East Van following up leads sniffed out by my parents and found a nice corner space in a good area. Standing in the space I started to visualize the new place and the nervous excitement came flooding back. The next morning was spent at City Hall and after a couple of hours I found out that the space could never be zoned correctly and my day dreams of lax Indian bylaws and crooked officials filled my head once again.
Although it had only been a few weeks of looking for space to lease, I was feeling frustrated. Somewhere in Vancouver was the perfect place, but where? A week prior, while phoning an agent about another space, she mentioned that she had a large space in Gastown in the Downtown East Side that I should check out. I cycled to the address she had given me on East Hastings St., Vancouver’s most infamous stretch of road. Wiping the window with my sleeve I peered into the cavernous dark space. My initial reaction was that the space was too big and probably way too much work and money. But after three weeks of looking, that space kept finding its way into my mind and once again Salomeh and I found ourselves peering through the window. Salomeh put out my fears of taking on the large space and the phone call was made to the realtor.
I have been back in Vancouver for just over 60 days and for the past month I have been working on creating my first ever “for profit” business. There has been a few weeks of negotiations, proposals, lease amendments, meetings with lawyers and countless hours on the phone berating my dad with endless questions. Stage One of many is now over and the creating of the actual business has begun, which is extremely exciting.
This beautiful new space will give DWP its first real home here in Canada and give it a chance to gain a new group of donors and friends here in Vancouver. It is not by mistake but by good fortune that DWP and I have landed back in Vancouver and have set up shop in the Downtown East Side. After 3 years of work in India where 1/3 of the world’s poor reside, DWP’s new home is right smack in the middle of Canada’s poorest postal code. It is my hope that while continuing to support our friends and families in India that we can also begin to work closer to home and start a new chapter of helping locally as well.
I will be putting up sneak peaks of what I am up to leading up to the reveal of this new chapter for me and for DWP. Stay tuned….
Change is good..
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