Mural Needed for People’s Co-op Bookstore

May 18, 2023


Many of my readers will know that the People’s Co-op Bookstore at 1391 Commercial has a range of $2 books that they sell from shelves they designed to sit outside the store. The stock is protected each night by wooden shutters which tend to get targeted for graffiti. Some officials have complained about the graffiti and demanded that the store do something about it.

Painting over the graffiti time after time seems a pointless exercise as nothing attracts taggers more than a freshly-painted surface.

Therefore, the store has decided to run a sort of competition to offer the shutters to local artists as a canvas for murals. So, Artists, please let the store know if you have any interest in painting their toonie shelf lids! Email with your ideas to

A Brief History of 1320 Commercial

January 31, 2023


In a previous post today, I reported on the farewell party the community held for the closing of the Santa Barbara Market at 1320 Commercial. As part of the celebration, I gave a short speech on the history of the building. Several people asked me to write it down, so here is an extended version.

In 1926, businessman Clarence Webber opened the Old Mill Gas station at 1350 Commercial. He ran it until 1945 when he sold the business. With the money he received, Webber purchased three large lots which today are 1320, 1338, 1340 Commercial. Once wartime restrictions on building materials were lifted, Webber built two new buildings on his lots — 1344 Commercial which housed a hardware store on the ground floor, with doctors’ offices upstairs, and 1320 Commercial.

1320 Commercial was designed to have offices upstairs while the rear of the ground floor housed Webber’s new business — 1200 food lockers, which local residents used in the days when home fridges and freezers were far less common than today. He also built a small produce store to front on Commercial Drive. While the food lockers were a big hit, the grocery store became even more popular. It featured the first ice cream bar on the Drive and also was the first store outside the downtown core to feature muzak for the customers.

The popular market stayed in business (as Artic Food Markets, then Arctic IGA, and finally, Kaufman Meats) until the early 1960s.

In 1965, a major fire destroyed the interior of the building, which was then occupied by Thomas Furniture & Appliances, but it was restored and eventually became the home of Italian Furniture by Marano, with apartment suites upstairs. Italian Furniture stayed in the building until August 1972 when they and the suites were badly damaged in another fire.

Later in the 1970s, the building was used by the Vancouver Community College as a space for skills development, and then was occupied by Italian Sporting Goods until 1979. The offices at this time housed the Marco Polo Italian newspaper, and Radio Italia CJJC. It then fell vacant until 1981 when Paco Celador opened Santa Barbara Market, which flourished until this very day.

Farewell to Santa Barbara Market!

January 31, 2023


Today was the last day of business for the hugely popular Santa Barbara Market at 1320 Commercial Drive. The current owners are retiring, and the business closes after 42 years of wonderful service.

A couple of hundred fans, organized by Penny Street and supported by much of the Carnival Band, held a thank you celebration outside the store at lunch time today. It was an emotional affair, with songs written for the occasion, lots of dancing, flowers for the staff, a quick history lesson from me, and memories galore.

Santa Barbara has been an integral part of the Drive experience for so long, and the community came out to show just how important that has been.

We understand that new owners will be taking over the business, probably with a new name. However, I know that for me, like many others, it will be very strange walking that block tomorrow without Santa Barbara Market being there.

Happy 100th Magnet Hardware!

October 28, 2022


Magnet Hardware, which currently operates as a Home Hardware franchise on the corner of Commercial & Graveley, has been in business for exactly 100 years today. Magnet originally opened on 28th October 1922 “in the gallery of the Cal Van Market” at 25 Hastings Street. By early 1923, the business was located at 1515 Commercial Drive.

Magnet was owned and operated by Allan P. Squires who had been a salesman at Terminal Hardware. Twenty-two years later, in September 1944, Squires decided to retire and sold the business to Fred Ross, a new arrival from Edmonton. At the time of the sale, the Highland Echo said that Magnet was a perfect example of the Commercial Drive way: starting out small and building to a substantial business.

In June 1954 he sold Magnet to E.J. “Ted” Walker, also from Edmonton, due to Mrs. Ross’s ill health; and Ross sold it on to local former-Alderman Syd Bowman in 1955.

The store and building were severely damaged in a fire on 5th April 1963 shortly after Bowman left that night sometime after 9pm. Bowman rebuilt as quickly as he could, closing the store during weekdays for renovations, but opening on Saturdays for a fire sale. It re-opened on 20 June 1963 with “a brand-new interior, new stock and plenty of enthusiasm.”

In July 1964 Bowman sold the business to Sam Buonassisi who had been a successful entrepreneurial carpenter before buying Magnet. In 1972 the business took over the old Royal Bank branch at 1575 Commercial where it remains. They appear to have joined the Home Hardware group in 1994.

When Sam died in 2020, his son-in-law Ed Wilkerson took over the store and he manages it to this day.

Living the High Life

June 17, 2022


Highlife Records and Music has been an important fixture on the Drive for forty years, selling an eclectic range of world music, jazz, and instruments. The store also sells albums written, produced, and performed by Highlife’s owner, Kevin Finseth.

I am glad that the Vancouver Sun ran this feature for the launch of his latest album called Hertzog. Stuart Derdeyn describes Finseth’s music as “[p]aired with the lovely cello work of jazz cellist Peggy Lee, additional instrumentation from producer A-Dub and the bowed kemenche and wordless vocals of Turkish artist Asli Maj, the music is like a soundtrack to a film by Greek director Theo Angelopoulus.”

The store is always worth a visit!

Black Dog Video Closing

April 14, 2022


I am old enough to remember when there was a video rental store on every street in virtually every city, town and village. Now, they are nearly all gone.

I mention this having just read a newsletter from Black Dog Video, 1470 Commercial, announcing that they too will be closing after more than 16 years on the Drive, driven away by high rents and competition from streaming services.

To be honest, I am one of the reasons they are closing — it is a very long time since I rented a video, content to consume my movies through the internet and the streamers. However, it is always a shame to lose a long-established business from the Drive and I am sure they will be missed by their loyal clients.

Co-op Books Is Hiring

December 16, 2021


Canada’s longest-surviving independent bookstore, the People’s Co-op Bookstore on Commercial Drive, is looking for a part time clerk:

Their email address is

Want To Work at The Bookstore?

March 5, 2021

The People’s Co-op Bookstore at 1391 Commercial is looking for a part-time bookstore clerk. They are looking for someone to work three days a week on a continuous basis.

If you are interested, send your resume to

Global Issues, Local Effects

November 10, 2020

I am sure that we have all been aware of stories from the last ten months of travel restrictions and failing airlines all over the world. It seems however that those issues have come home to roost on Commercial Drive.

In the last Changes on the Drive episode I noted that Flight Centre at 1733 Commercial had closed. Today, I saw a large “for lease” sign on the building that Columbus World Travel occupies at 1501 Commercial.

Image taken before the For Lease sign went up

Not a business to be in these days, I suppose.

A Cut Too Close To Home

May 21, 2020

One of the great barbers of our generation is closing.  Tino, who has been a fixture on the Drive since 1993, has decided to retire, the latest victim of the virus.


In 1993, Tino took over Tommy’s Barber Shop at 1834 Commercial. I first went there in about 1996 and he has cut my hair ever since.  Some years ago he was obliged to move to 2111 Commercial, a space that is now sadly empty and gutted.

He was always a steady source of Italian gossip, a great stylist (so long as it was very short all over), and will be greatly missed.


75 For 75

May 3, 2020

The People’s Coop Bookstore at 1391 Commercial Drive is the oldest existing bookstore in Canada.  It was founded 75 years ago and has been a popular fixture on the Drive since 1983.  Like so many volunteer-operated services these days, the Bookstore needs help to survive for another 75 years. And so they  have launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $75,000.


“Read more about the history of the store and our accomplishments, our fundraising plans, and perks for donating here:  

Please share this fundraising link with those who love the store.”

The Bookstore has recently re-opened on weekends (Sat & Sun, 11-4), following strict social distancing protocols, and you can help their future directly by visiting the store and buying books to keep you going through the rest of our lock-down period and beyond.

People’s Co-op Bookstore To Reopen This Weekend

April 23, 2020

After writing about businesses closing on the Drive, it is a real pleasure to report that the People’s Co-op Bookstore — the oldest existing bookstore in Canada — will re-open.

“After careful consideration and closely monitoring BC’s health stats and recommendations over multiple board meetings, we’ve decided to dust off the store and re-open with limited hours. We will be open on weekends– Saturday and Sunday— from 11:00am to 4:00pm, starting this weekend.

Our staff, member and customer health is very important to us. We will follow social distancing guidelines by limiting the amount of people in the store to four at a time, as well as offering hand sanitizer to customers, sanitizing books that have been touched, and keeping our cash machines sanitized.”

They have a wonderful selection of new and old books and I can’t wait to get back to browsing the shelves.

Good News — and Bad — for the Drive

April 14, 2020

In previous reports I have noted that Triple A Grocery at 1626 Commercial was boarded up and probably closed.  However, today it seemed to be open again, which is good news.  Hope it is permanent.

On the other hand, Storm Crow Tavern at 1305 Commercial is closed and not coming back.  The owners posted on Facebook:

“The Tavern already had many challenges, such as an expiring lease in an aging building slated for redevelopment, and the coronavirus, for us and many other small restaurants, is a fatal blow while we’re already down.”

They will be keeping on with their Alehouse on Broadway, and the Manor in Toronto.


Many thanks to Ferry Seagull for the heads up.

Another Shoe Drops ….

April 7, 2020

Federico’s Supper Club, a 20-year veteran at 1728 Commercial has announced its closure.

“The restaurant’s owner, Federico Fuoco, said that in addition to a rent increase, thousands in monthly taxes being paid, and wage increase requests, the COVID-19 pandemic was ‘the nail in the coffin’ for the small business … ‘Now is the time for [small businesses] to get real help. Not deferrals or loans, but real financial help. This is the only way landlords will be able to work with tenants in finding real solutions instead of just letting tenants walk away for good,’ read the statement.”

Fuoco has been a force on the Drive –especially concerning Italian Day — for many years. He ran for City Council some while ago, and is still on the Board of the Vancouver NPA. He has been a leader in the move to “protect” the Drive from bicycle lanes.  His club has staged numerous tribute bands over the years. It will be missed.

Last week Cabrito Cafe announced its closure, and Triple A Grocers was boarded up.


The Drive’s First Closures

April 3, 2020

In the last Changes on the Drive report, I noted that it is too early to tell the long term damage the covid-19 crisis will inflict on local businesses.  However, we have now heard of the first closure in this period.

The five-year old Cabrito Restaurant at 2270 Commercial will officially close this weekend.  The tone of the press announcement suggests that the closure was going to happen with or without the virus. The virus, however, has disrupted any plans for a big send-off party.


When I was doing the Changes walk last Tuesday, I noticed that Triple A Grocery at 1626 Commercial had closed. When I passed by yesterday I saw that they have actually boarded up the place.  I hope that is just a temporary situation.


High Fidelity Closing

February 5, 2020

My favourite correspondent advises me that High Fidelity Hair Salon at 1003 Commercial is closing from this weekend.  The decision was quite sudden, I hear, but hopefully the stylists there will find work at other salons on the Drive.

It seems like an age ago now, but six years ago, at their previous location, High Fidelity made a name for itself by providing anal bleaching for those that wanted it. Quite a fuss it caused, too.

When they moved, they spent quite some effort on renovating the old Peg’s Antique Store getting it to look as good as it does today, and now that large double-front is soon to be vacant.

People’s Co-op Bookstore

September 19, 2019

The most interesting bookstore on the Drive is the People’s Co-op Bookstore at 1391 Commercial. They have been a vital part of our community since 1983.  Next week is their AGM, which takes place in the store at 7:00pm, on 26th September, and the following is from their latest newsletter:

“Each year, the AGM offers an opportunity to learn about the store’s operations and the events of the past year. The community’s decision to rally behind the co-op and keep the
doors open was nearly two years ago and since then we’ve been hard at work to stabilize the finances, keep the shelves stocked with new and exciting materials, and host intriguing
readings and daring discussions. The Annual General Meeting also represents a call for members to become active in the life and direction of our bookstore. If you want to get more involved in this coming year, we invite you to put your name forward for membership on the Co-op’s board.”

Joining their Board and/or volunteering in the store offers a great way to help one of our neighbourhood’s treasured institutions.

SuperValu: The Bookseller

May 16, 2018

When I published “The Drive some years ago, a number of local bookstores helped me sell the volume, and I thank them for all their assistance.  However, the largest single seller of the book — and they sold several hundreds — was SuperValu at First & Commercial.  They put up a display stand near a cashier, sold the book at full price, and people bought it as an impulse buy (I’m guessing) while they waited their turn in line.  I don’t believe they had sold books of any kind before and it was a positive experience for both the store and me.

Today when I was in the store, they were eager and proud to tell me they now had a whole display of locally written and locally published books.


As a Board member at People’s Coop Bookstore, I guess I should be nervous about yet another competitor. However,  I really appreciate the efforts the owner and managers of the supermarket are doing to further the careers of our local authors, and I applaud and thank them!



The Wonderbucks Building

March 13, 2018

In the last Changes On The Drive, I reported that the building at 1301 Commercial, which most of us these days know as the Wonderbucks Building, is  now for sale.  I’ve written a brief history of the building for the Grandview Heritage Group which you may find of interest.


Robberies on the Drive

January 9, 2018

As many of you will know, Mary Jean “Watermelon” Dunsdon operates the Licorice Parlour at 1002 Commercial Drive. The following is quoted from Watermelon’s recent post on Facebook:

“Dear Fellow Commercial Drivers: Commercial Drive Licorice Parlour got broken into last night by a seriously professional thief. He has now hit up at least 4 businesses that I know of just in our block alone . Sometime between 1 and 2 AM. He is packing all sorts of tools in his back pack for any type of lock. Caucasian male, approx 5 foot 8. He was wearing a lighter colour hooded rain coat with a hat as well and of course his back pack. He has a really long nose and pale complexion.

Please be on the look out. Also please tell all your friends and neighbours who work or live in the area. Together we are stronger.

I only found out about all the other robberies after mine got broken into. He tried breaking the front lock too said the lock smith tonight, which would explain why our door has been a bit off the hinges for two weeks. Which means he tried to get in a week before Christmas, then kept coming back. Last night he sawed off some of the metal lip on the back door and must have picked the other locks or used magnets to get in. It is a mystery. A few nights ago he smashed the window on a store two doors down and when no cops came he went in and robbed the joint with the alarm going. Across the street he got through two security doors and tripped up the alarm somehow. This guy is bold. We all have him on camera.

Tomorrow I will campaign all business to put up signage and fortify themselves. It is already a disgrace how hard small business need to work to survive in this city. The cost of a break-in could make or break any one of us.”


It is an unfortunate reality that these bad things happen even our wonderful neighbourhood. If you know anything about this or recognise the guy, please contact the store or the police.