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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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 weekCabrito Cafe announced its closure, and Triple A Grocers was boarded up.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago, the People’s Coop Book Store at 1391 Commercial issued a notice stating that they would be going out of business at the end of this month. Founded in 1945, the bookstore moved to Commercial Drive in 1983 and has been an important part of the Drive’s cultural heritage for thirty-five years. To see it close would be a terrible shame. Last night the Coop held a Special General Meeting to discuss the situation.
The Coop now has more than 800 members and had perhaps its busiest Christmas season ever last month. However, like many small businesses, the Coop has always been short of capital. In the Coop’s case, this has meant a smaller than required operating line of credit leading to problems with ordering books from publishers. And, of course, without new books, a bookstore has less and less to offer. Recently, the finances have been bought to a crisis position due to some unexpected but unavoidable expenses and this has created a shortage of funds with which to pay the rent, leading to the decision to close.
At the meeting last night there was a definite desire from the members attending to see the store keep operating and enough money was raised at the meeting to pay the rent and operating expenses for February. A few new Board members were added (including me) and we will work hard to set in place a more secure financing plan for the future.
This has always been a co-operative venture rather than a for profit corporation and I hope some of the members who have a little spare cash can come forward with donations to see the Bookstore through this difficult period. If you can assist financially, please contact the store and we’ll make the necessary arrangements.
I was working on the computer last night when, quite suddenly, my second monitor — on which I was watching the Ashes — simply blacked out. I assumed it was a connection issue but quickly noticed that all the display attributes on my main monitor had become wonky — none of the web sites I was visiting or the documents I was working on looked the way they should.
Like any experienced computer user I knew exactly what to do: I turned off the computer for a reboot. Sadly, my computer decided it did not want to boot up again
Luckily, just two blocks away from the apartment, sits VCV Computers on Commercial Drive. The proprietor, James, has run the store for many years and has kept us on-line several times in the past. I took my damaged baby to see him at 10 this morning, and by 6 this evening for a very reasonable fee I had it back, almost as good as new. Excellent service and good rates, as always; hard to recommend them highly enough.
The Choices grocery store on Commercial Drive — over-hyped, over-expensive, the creator of a vast wasteland for much of its block, and a threat to genuinely local stores such as the Food Co-op — is having its Grand Opening on Saturday between 5:30pm and 7:30pm.
Seems odd given the length of time they have already been open.
Savo Jeremic, the founder with his wife Ivanka of J,N,Z Meats on Commercial, died peacefully on July 20th at the age of 70 years. Their butchers shop has been a fixture on the Drive since 1988 and they recently took over completely refurbished quarters.
Savo was a great chess player and an avid fisherman, as well as a master butcher.
Back in 2000, Ivanka was asked why they opened a store on Commercial Drive: “Everything we do is special. Dry smoked, old fashioned. Like they do in Europe. We used to have a beautiful store in West Vancouver, but everyone there is on a diet. Here there are working people who have to eat.”
If all they sold were black puddings and Jaffa cakes, I’d still be a regular.
As readers of this site will be aware, I have been exercised lately about the number of vacancies on the Drive and, more particularly, the length of time some of these vacancies continue. At the beginning of this month, we had three stores that have been vacant for more than a year, two for more than two years, and one for more than three years. There seems to be no activity on any of these long-term empty stores.
I mentioned this issue to the local BIA and their response was that this was a “global phenomenon” and so, I suppose, out of their hands.
During Car Free Day on Sunday I chatted with the owner of a small storefront in the heart of the Drive that has been empty for nine months. He told me they haven’t had any luck finding a suitable tenant: “And we are only asking $4,500 a month — the going rate.”
There was it seems to me, no thought on what might actually be needed to attract a tenant, maintain the space, pay taxes and mortgages — just that $4,500 was “the going rate.” There was also no appreciation that $4,500 is proving to be the going rate for keeping the store empty and revenue-less.
I’m no economist but none of this makes any sense to me.
The half-block of Commercial Drive running north from Napier used to be a bright busy space with Drive Organics, a hairdresser and a tattooist as I recall. Today, that entire half-block has been taken over by Choices grocery and they have turned it into a desert.
Part of the true joy of Commercial Drive is the narrow storefronts, each one different from the next, and each one contributing its share of colour and life and vibrancy to the street and the neighbourhood. Choices defies all those good aspects of urban life, with a very long store, with opaque windows (so even the activity inside is hidden), and a featureless exterior. There are no eyes on the street, there is no activity, there is no fun here, it is a bleak wilderness.
And it is so easy to deal with: it is a produce store, for goodness sakes, and so perfect for street-side carts and tables filled with colourful fruits and vegetables and anything else they want to sell, You just have to look at Normans or Triple A or Donald’s to see how it is done. It is not rocket science, but I get the feeling that Choices doesn’t really care: it is a business divorced from its community. That may be why I never shop there.