04/02/2013 10:56 EDT | Updated 06/02/2013 05:12 EDT

Downtown Eastside businesses take stand against vandals

The Downtown Eastside's Business Improvement Association is taking a stand against protesters and vandals in the neighbourhood.

Recent weeks have seen pickets outside local businesses, while others have been vandalized by anarchist activists.

"The people you see out there protesting, frankly, they're a fairly small group of people,” said Judy McGuire, coordinator of the Inner City Safety Society.

"There's about 18,000 people in that community. It's hardly the majority of the community that comes out."

McGuire, who has worked in the Downtown Eastside for 20 years, says local businesses — many with mandates to hire locally — are assets to the area.

"We see them as part of the solution, not part of the problem."

Wes Regan, the executive director of the Hastings Crossing BIA, says demonizing small businesses is a childish and misguided approach to helping the area transition.

"I'm sorry, but if you're unemployed for several years and your self-esteem has been battered because you just hit a raw deal after raw deal, and suddenly you are given a job and you are given an opportunity to build capacity and become more self-sufficient, that is a major thing and that shouldn't be downplayed."

Regan says the narrative is not a simple battle between gentrifiers and low-income earners defending the status quo.

He says his association has already struck up some innovative partnerships between area businesses and residents, and more work is being done to unify the neighbourhood — even as it changes.

The association is inviting the public to attend a meeting on community safety and crime prevention at 5:30 p.m. PT Wednesday at Lost and Found Cafe at 33 West Hastings Street.