Show Some Love

Posted on May 2nd 2016 at 08:00:00 AM by (Crabmaster2000)
Posted under Blog Quest, Game Store, Game Quest, Bureaucracy, Municipal

If you've been following my blog for a while, you may remember that nearly two years ago my business butted heads with my local city government. Once we successfully put that behind us, I was hoping to not hear from them again outside of renewing my business license each year. Turns out that was just wishful thinking.....

In July, we moved Game Quest to its current location. A nicer area of town, and a space about 4 times the size of our previous home. This area is a little different than our previous spot in one other, very important way: it was classified as a light industrial area and not a retail location. I thought I had figured out a way for us to make it work though, so before we moved in, I made a meeting with our City Planner to discuss my idea.

Basically, as a light industrial area, we are not allowed to set up a purely retail shop. Seems like a problem, BUT it turns out you are able to run a business in this zone if you're classified as Indoor Recreation (there is a minor and major distinction in which we would apply for minor). Indoor Recreation businesses are allowed to sell retail products related to the recreation they provide, as long as the retail portion of the venue doesn't exceed 33% of the square footage of the location. Typically, this kind of classification is reserved for things like an indoor racketball court in which most of the location is the actual courts and they may have a small offering of rackets, shoes, or beverages for sale. My job was to convince the planner that video games and tabletop games could classify as and indoor recreational activity, even though it was historically sporting related. Luckily, it seemed that in the past, our city had included Bingo as an indoor recreational activity, which helped my case immensely, since they couldn't say a physical activity was a requirement to meet the criteria.

Back up plan if our indoor rec designation didn't pan out

Eventually, she agreed that if I didn't exceed the 33% floor space and had a range of regularly scheduled events, I could operate in the location and sell products related to those events. For example, I could run gaming events such as weekly Street Fighter and Smash Bros. nights, which would allow me to sell video games and accessories, since they are directly related to the events I was running. The same is true for board games, Magic cards, Dungeons and Dragons, and other tabletop games. With her approval, I felt confident in the new location so I applied to operate, and worked out a deal with the owners of the building. I did all of this months before we planned to operate.

Fast forward to moving weekend and my business license still hadn't been approved. I was getting worried. I talked to the city's bylaw enforcement officer to see what the hold up was and though she couldn't tell me, she said to go ahead and operate and thought it would be sorted out in the near future. We have now been operating in this location for 10 months and still have not been issued our business license. It's really great that they are letting us keep going without it, but problems are starting to arise. The two biggest ones are that we cannot sign up with any new distributors without a business license number and that we cannot get sanctioned to run official events for one of the biggest tabletop games of all time, Magic the Gathering.

Initially, I went to the city a few weeks in to find out what the hold up was and also inquire on our maximum capacity at the store. I was told our maximum capacity was 10 people!! That was gonna be a problem for running events. A BIG problem. I was also told that was what was holding back our license. They gave me a list of 3 changes that needed to be made to the location in order for us to meet licensing requirements. They told us to relocate our emergency exit, to increase our washroom size to meet handicap requirements, and to add a second washroom. So we took this information to our new landlords, who happen to be contractors, to see what could be done. They said they could help us out.

We were able to quickly reroute the emergency exit to the rear of the store through our storage room, and after a couple months, we were able to get our washroom size increased to meet the current standards to fit a wheelchair, and even though they didn't like it, we had a port-a-potty dropped into our yard as our second overflow washroom. Not ideal, but it was cost effective and we didn't have to lose any more precious floor space. It met licensing requirements though, so it'll do for now. This should take care of all of our problems and our license should get issued now, right???

As we waited months for an inspector to show up and verify the changes to the store, it got more and more frustrating. I confronted the licensing officer once more to learn that she was waiting for a Code Analysis on the building. I was told this was done long ago by our landlords, but no one at the city had received it for some reason. Unfortunately, the architect that had done it was in China when I tried to contact him, so I had to wait nearly a month for his return. Once he got back, I had a difficult time tracking him down and actually talking to him. Eventually, I was able to make phone contact with him and got terrible news. He made it sound like there was nothing we could do short of tearing the building down and rebuilding it in order to have it suit our needs and pass the Code Analysis. I convinced him to come down to the store and physically walk me through all that needed to be done.

After standing me up twice, he showed up for our third appointment. It seems that he didn't give the city the Code Analysis because he knew it wouldn't pass and was hoping they would drop the request for it. He also said he didn't think we'd last as a business and told the landlords to take whatever months of rent they could get form us before we closed shop. So when I explained we were doing fine and that the city wasn't going to drop their request, he explained that all we needed to do was to make a new emergency exit directly through the wall of the building. That's it.

My proposed architectural drawing of the new emergency exit

So after yet another visit to my landlord to beg for further renovations, we should be getting our 3rd, and hopefully last, emergency exit installed next week. That should meet the requirements of the Code Analysis, which will then be forwarded to the Licensing Officer and should result in our very own business license! I am a bit leery to get my hopes up though, as each time I do, some new issue seems to arise. Hopefully, this will be the last of this issue I ever have to deal with.

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That's pretty dumb to say that "I'm not going to do my job because I think you won't make it."

Seems very shady in fact after re-reading it...

Hopefully there's only a round 3 where this gets resolved, you meet the inspector at city hall, they fire him, and then there is a resounding round of applause throughout the building.
I imagined your new emergency exit as this:

...and this as the Code Analysis guy:
This is the kind of stuff that my friend who runs a family business tells me can happen.  Good luck, and I hope this is the last of your ails, however, you are smart to be holding out for yet another "issue".
@Bickman - He seemed like a shady dude to me. Was very hard to get a hold of and actually get him down to the store. Unfortunately for me it's who my landlords like using so I'm kinda stuck on that one since they are really great landlords and have done a lot of the work for free or at cost for me.

@Shadow - I should totally go Roger Rabbit on this place!!

@Gamer4Lyfe - Stuff like this comes out of seemingly nowhere. I've been fortunate to have bought a lot of goodwill withing the walls of city hall though (helps to have a friend to controls the financial department for the while city Wink ) so they have been working with me albeit at a slow pace.
Good luck on your license!

Do the arcade games count as part of the hosted events?

@Addicted - You bet they do!
Wow.  This sounds like the kind of nonsense that happens out in my neck of the woods, crab.  Not outright thievery, but plain old-fashioned sloth: laziness to the highest degree.  Though when cornered at least the inspector told you what you needed.  I know I say this every article, but kudos to you, man.  Only the determined persevere.
The solution is simple. Relocate the store to Wisconsin. Wink
It never ceases to amaze me how much crap you have to deal with running your business.  I had no idea all of this was going on even though we message on a regular. I don't see how you do it man. Two jobs, one your own business, and a family. I'd be a huge ball of stress!
@singlebanana: - Playing NES games for so long has built me up an immunity to frustrating situations and given me a great deal of patience Wink

In reality though its mostly good stuff that comes out the business and maybe the blog hasn't reflected that of late. I consider myself a realist and a positive person. Even though I've written about unfortunate situations lately it's I've found that after they are dealt with I usually have a great deal of relief and a good sense of accomplishment and honestly these issues often end up being beneficial to us in the end. By dealing with crappy things in a positive and open manor it has bought us a lot of good will locally and opened up a bunch of partnerships I wouldn't have dreamed of.
Crazy man, you certainly handle it well (at least on the outside, inside Crabby is a raging ball of fire!)
man, bs!
Sounds like you've had quite a few headaches to deal with.  Glad to see you're at least a good sport about it, and not letting it get you down too much.  Keep your chin up and just keep jumping through the hoops, and hopefully it will all pay off.
You are the poster boy for all things zen....i would have lost my shit a long time ago. Bravo. Being positive and building good partnerships will pay dividends later on. As they say, it's not what you know, but who keep on slugging and building a solid'll see someday that these narrow sighted city officials will be on your side and may not put up so many road blocks for your next project........that or you'll have enough bling to give them a brown envelope Wink

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