Home Month and Year January 2024 Always Up for the Challenge

Always Up for the Challenge

David Wallach, owner of Barclay Street Real Estate, on the battles he’s fought and won

David Wallach, owner of Barclay Street Real Estate. Photo by Riverwood Photography.

David Wallach and his young family immigrated to Canada in 1999 in search of a better future. A successful businessman in his native Israel, Wallach and his wife sought a more peaceful life for their three kids, one where the realities of war are seen on TV, not in one’s backyard. After thorough research, Calgary was their chosen destination.

“All indicators at that time were that Calgary would be the next boom,” Wallach recounts. “And the indicators were right. I came to Calgary for 10 days in September 1997 and I called my wife from a payphone and said: ‘Honey, this is the place we want to be. They act like a small village, but it’s a growing city, and that’s the opportunity.’”

Twenty-five years later, Wallach is the owner/broker of Barclay Street Real Estate, a successful full-service commercial real estate brokerage and property management firm. He also sits on the board of TCN Worldwide, a consortium of award-winning, privately-owned commercial real estate firms from across the globe.

In addition, he co-hosts a weekly business radio talk show with Tara McCool and has co-chaired the Calgary Economic Development Real Estate Advisory Committee.

Attaining this success has been a journey; as a locally owned business operating in a global marketplace, Wallach has had to battle for every deal, opportunity and milestone he and Barclay Street have achieved. Equipped with the tact and strategy learned from weekly boxing sessions (Wallach is an avid boxer), he is a fierce business competitor who knows better than to back down from a fight.

Equally passionate about community-building, Wallach is a dedicated volunteer and family man.

“These days, Barclay Street is doing okay overall,” he reflects. “We’re part of the local economy and the greater economy as well, so the ups and downs impact us. We survived COVID, and now we’re dealing with the new reality of higher interest rates – which was the reality before 2008. We took advantage of 14 years of low interest rates, but we understand how to work with rates at four, five and six per cent too.”

Barclay Street, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in business this year, has 51 employees including brokers and property managers, with offices in Calgary and Edmonton. “Some are doing better than others because not all market segments are at the same time at their peak,” he explains. “In short, we can’t complain. We’re still here, we’re still kicking, determined to make a positive impact. We’re trying to get more involved in the community. There’s always room for a strong, locally owned brokerage in a trading area that is just over a million and a half people.”

Barclay Street Real Estate offers a full suite of leasing and sales services for all commercial real estate needs, including retail, investment, industrial and office as well as a full-service property management division.

Born and raised in Haifa, Israel, Wallach, like every other Israeli, joined the army after graduation from high school. “I did three and a half years of mandatory, full service,” he says. “During that service I met my future wife, Zohar. That was 43 years ago.”

After completing their service, the couple went to live in the kibbutz where Zohar had been born and raised. They eventually moved back to Haifa and young Wallach attended university – for three days. “I asked my dad: ‘how much do I owe you?’” he laughs. “Then I went into sales. That was October 1985. The rest is history.”

Wallach started his own insurance brokerage and invested in other ventures, some more successful than others. He was also the GM of a professional basketball team called Maccabi Haifa: “I was the GM and a member of the Israeli Basketball Association management for a few years.”

Having experienced war first-hand – five times now, including last October as Wallach and his wife were in Tel Aviv when Hamas terrorists attacked, murdered and took hostage Israeli civilians – Wallach and his wife made a difficult decision for the sake of their kids.

“We decided we would rather watch CNN than be on CNN,” he admits. “It’s a tough life over there, both economically and mentally with all the wars. I’ve experienced rockets overhead. I know what I need to do. And then you just pray. You can never get used to it, but you just pray.”

When the family landed in Calgary on December 28, 1998, it was minus 18 degrees; they had departed a balmy 25 degree Tel Aviv. “I told my wife if she wants to get a little bit warmer, the freezer in the fridge is only minus seven!” he chuckles.

A year later, on Valentine’s Day 2000, Wallach joined Torode Real Estate, and thus began his career in Canadian commercial real estate. When founder John Torode decided to sell a year later, Wallach was invited to join a group of senior brokers to buy the business. “They invited me because I had experience running a business before.”

By January 2003 Wallach had become president and broker. “After we bought John out, we decided to refresh the company brand,” Wallach reminisces. “Eventually, one of the partners suggested Barclay Street since we were located on Barclay Street [3rd Street downtown]. And of course our landlord was very happy with that. He told me in a meeting: ‘You’re not moving anywhere now; you’re stuck.’ He still owns the building and he’s still our landlord!”

Given the unpredictable nature of the brokerage’s revenue – where commissions can vary widely month to month – Wallach saw the need for a steady stream of income. Thus, a property management business with stable monthly income was sought in 2006. Wallach zeroed in on an existing successful company, Anchor Management, whose owner, Dan Johnson, was planning to retire. “He called me and said he’d spoken with many buyers, but I was the only one who treated him nicely,” Wallach recounts. “I said thank you and we had a deal within two hours.”

When purchased by Barclay Street, Anchor had 300,000 square feet under management. Today, it has over 5.25 million square feet, including commercial properties, residential and commercial condominium associations. “We found that niche – condos – to be very good for us,” Wallach notes.

To broaden the brokerage’s global reach, Barclay Street joined TCN Worldwide, a global alliance of commercial real estate firms in 2011. “Over 90 per cent of the deals in commercial real estate are local deals,” Wallach reiterates, “but if you want to play the game like others – the big international and national brokers – you have to demonstrate a reach outside of Alberta. So TCN actually helps us gain more business in our own backyard. We’ve had some good referrals between markets in the U.S. and vice versa, but that’s just the cherry on top.”

Calgary is set to host TCN’s annual conference in September 2024. “We can showcase our city,” Wallach notes.

In 2014, Wallach and a partner launched Triumph Real Estate Investment Fund, a private REIT. It has purchased and sold properties in both the U.S. and Canada, and currently holds a total of nine properties. “We are now in the process of raising funds to buy more properties,” Wallach explains. “We see opportunities now with the change of interest rates. Some people cannot refinance or have some issues with their properties, and we are the perfect buyers.”

Currently Triumph’s assets under management are around $100 million.

As a middle-of-the-pack brokerage, Barclay Street is growing its market share: “Some of the setbacks Calgary and Canada have suffered through, like COVID or now the rise in interest rates, being local empowers us to work harder, and that allowed us to grow our market share.”

He also relies on internal sales initiatives to encourage sales. “It’s about sharing,” he explains. “Sharing with everybody who is part of the success. My philosophy is that it’s our people’s success that creates Barclay Street and my success, not the other way around. You have to work for your success, and it will help us expand our brand.”

“I did 22 years of service in the Army and one of the things I believe and live by is leading by example,” he continues. “Don’t ask anyone to do what you’re not willing to. The other thing I encourage our people to do is to make decisions. If you’re wrong, let’s fix it. But it’s ok to be wrong. Make decisions. Finally, I always say we live on our service and relationships. So, walk the extra mile because there are no traffic jams there.”

One example Wallach provides is to give back to the community. His weekly business talk show – Calgary Next – Diversifying and Leadership in the New Economy – is focused on positive stories about great Calgary businesses. He is the chair of the Calgary Chapter of Beit Halochem Canada, an organization that supports wounded Israeli soldiers, a charity he and his wife donate much to.

Barclay Street supports and has supported Inn from the Cold, Not in My City, the Field of Crosses, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa. “This year during Stampede we also supported Army Family Services,” Wallach says. “Being a soldier is close to my heart. Canadian soldiers to me are the same as Israeli soldiers. Every soldier that gets wounded or killed because they protect democracy is near and dear to me.”

With his three children now grown and with children of their own (he and Zohar have three grandkids), Wallach spends his free time reading and travelling with his wife. His love of Calgary is strong, and he hopes to see this city’s culture further develop.

“I hope that with the new events centre, the expansion of Arts Commons and the new BMO centre, we bring more after hour activities for young people,” he says. “Whether it’s Flames hockey, a good concert, a great play – we have to get more and more culture to the city.”

Businessman; soldier; family man; community defender. Wallach’s success in each of his roles is rooted in a foundation of strength, resilience, courage and grit. Never down for the count, he will stay in the good fight for as long as it takes.