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Don't let the music die: Bully’s Music Studio appeals for help with parking

Can city hall help Bully’s Studios keep music alive – in a space where Jimi Hendrix once performed?

A downtown business owner is appealing to the city for help in keeping his music studio from going out of business.

Rob Leishman, owner of Bully Studios Inc., told council that the removal of parking around his business has scared away customers, who no longer have many places close to the studio where they can park. The business is located on the lower part of Sixth Street, just around the corner from the Agnes Street Greenway and near the cannabis store – both of which have created parking challenges for musicians trying to get to Bully’s.

“My guys can't bike a drum kit to the studio,” he said.

Leishman said he knows some of the bands who have played at Bully’s are jamming at a studio in Burnaby that has a parking lot.

“It's becoming harder and harder for me to keep paying my rent,” he said. “And it's a very hard business; there's only six studios like this left in the Lower Mainland.”

At the Feb. 13 council meeting, Leishman asked the city to try to do something to assist with the parking near his business. He suggested that more spaces could be created by providing angled parking.

“What would help me greatly is to be able to provide parking to my clients again, because I'm losing business,” he said.

Along with rooms where bands can jam, Bully’s also has space where bands can play shows. He said he’d also appreciate the city’s support in getting a license that allows the business to serve beverages, without having to get individual permits for those performances.

“It's very hard to keep this place open with the pressures,” he told council. “I know you guys hear this – power’s going up, everything is going up. I need a liquor license, if someone could guide me.”

According to Leishman, the space at 67 Sixth St. has been used for musical purposes for decades. He noted that venues like this are where bands like touring bands like Mother Mother and Black Wizard get started.

“It's been a music store since the 50s.  Jimi Hendrix played in there,” he said. “And I bought that place to keep it open. I'm not making money there. I do OK at some other studios, but with this, I'm literally pouring money into this place and I want to keep it viable.

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa sked staff to connect with Leishman about the parking situation and report back to council. She also suggested the city’s “business concierge service” employee could connect with him to discuss his desire to get a liquor license.

“Business owners are working hard, and don't always have time to find out all the processes,” she said. And, you know, paperwork can be super tedious and takes time.”

Lisa Leblanc, the city’s engineering director, said engineering staff will reach out to the delegate to have a conversation about parking.

“In that exact area, there were relatively few on-street parking spaces lost. But it's recognized that there was quite a change to the street as a result of the treatment that was done on the Agnes Street Greenway,” she said.

Staff told council there was extensive consultation done with the community before the Agnes Street Greenway was built and while the interim treatment was in place. Leishman said Bully’s was not consulted about the changes in the area.

Coun. Daniel Fontaine said it’s not the first time businesses said they weren’t properly consulted about projects in their neighbourhoods. He said Sixth Street merchants expressed similar sentiments about the new NWSS bike connector.

“I think it's a good feedback for us as council that if we're going to implement these major capital infrastructure projects that have potential to impact local businesses, we should really be considering as much consultation is possible,” he said.

Following the meeting, Leishman said he was impressed to the city’s response to his concerns. Within a  few days staff in the engineering and licensing departments had contacted him, as well as Nakagawa.

Did you say Jimi Hendrix?

Bully’s Studios is 20 years old this year, but the space has a long musical history in New West.

“Well, Jimi played in the store in the late 60s when the building was Tartini's Music. It was an acoustic set when he was living in East Vancouver,” Tartini's was the first store in the Lower Mainland to carry Fender and Gibson products and was a very popular destination store through the 60s. It changed hands to other music stores but it's always been a music store.”

Leishman said Anciients, who won a Juno Award for Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year in 2018, is among the many bands who have rehearsed in the building.