Should the corner store, and coffee house, return to residential neighbourhoods?

Before the 1950’s, Mom & Pop grocery stores were common features of Vancouver’s single-family residential neighbourhoods. Then car culture, supermarkets Cityand rigid zoning rules that relegated commerce to main streets changed how communities functioned. A handful of “grandfathered” locations survived, and now their successors are transforming their neighbourhoods’ social life. Is it time to legalize new corner stores, or would they create noise and activity problems?
Starting the conversation will be Andy Yan, urban planner and researcher at Bing Thomas Architects; urban planner Neal Lamontagne; and Boyd Thompson, the proprietor of Strathcona’s popular The Wilder Snail grocery store. Then it’s your turn to question, comment and opine.

When: Thursday, 05 Sep 2013 12:30 PM

Where: SFU Vancouver, Harbour Centre 515 West Hastings, Room 1600


  1. I would welcome the return of corner stores, but I fear they wouldn’t survive.
    Many factors led to the decline and disappearance of the corner store:
    – zoning
    – motordom
    – two income families
    – supermarkets with purchasing power
    – massive increases in residential property value
    Zoning can be changed.
    Motordom is ever so slowly losing its grip on urban neighbourhoods, but is as strong as ever pretty much everywhere else. Suburban and small town BC is dominated by the local mall and big box stores surrounded by hectares of free parking.
    We’re never going back to a world where all the moms walk to the butcher, produce market, fish monger, etc. while their husbands are at work. Today families have a terrible shortage of time and that will continue to drive success of one-stop-shopping over older retail models.
    Purchasing power continues to concentrate in the hands of the few. Small businesses have no buying power and the best wholesale price they can get is often identical to the retail price charged by their competitors.
    Would you choose to work 12 hour days for $50k/year or to sell the property for $2 million?

  2. I suspect that corner stores would not survive as corner stores but as cafes. When people shop now, they want a greater selection and better prices than most corner stores can offer. And I think even the cafes would need to be special and well run in order to survive. There a few small little corner store / deli-like places in the West End, and they don’t look like have much turnover. As to the one-stop-shop model, one of the big revelations of my first childhood trip to the Netherlands was just how convenient all the individual shops on a pedestrian street were. Actually bundling the kids into the car, driving, walking through a large parking lot isn’t as time efficient as it seems. Not that I think we should turn back time on Superstore, I like it and it has its uses, but walking to individual stores in a walkable town has a lot going for it.

    1. I know how great a walkable street can be. I grew up in a walkable west side Vancouver neighbourhood, but didn’t appreciate that aspect until I was an adult because I had a stay-at-home mother who thought nothing of driving to the far side of the city for a good deal.
      When I moved out I chose a place in Kits within walking distance of the shops on 4th and Broadway. Walking to buy all my groceries was great. Sure the prices were higher than at a big box store, but I was burning calories instead of gasoline so it was all worth it.
      When I got married my wife wanted a house with a yard in the suburbs, but she doesn’t drive so it wasn’t too difficult to convince her to stay in the city. The house we could afford was in an east side neighbourhood with nothing but a 7-Eleven. I took the bus to work, but seemed to spend the rest of my life driving somewhere. Shopping was an ordeal involving strollers and fussy children that ruined many a weekend.
      Today we live in a walkable community again and it’s much nicer. Pedestrians learn to recognize each other and even if you never talk that sense of familiarity with those around you builds community. The kids can walk to their friends’ houses because everyone on the street recognizes them and knows where they live.
      A simple corner store does not a shopping street make and, as you said, people expect greater variety than a small shop can possibly offer. Having said that getting corner stores recognized as legitimate members of residential neighbourhoods again is the first step in getting a better mix of uses within walking distance of more people.

  3. I agree with David’s last statement – where are you going find someone willing to work long hours for low pay?
    The only people I can think of are empty nesters who need a “hobby”.
    I also wonder how even the produce vendors on Granville Island can make a living.

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