A news release yesterday: “After 34 years on Commercial Drive, the People’s Co-op Bookstore must close its doors.  Our last day of business will be January 31, 2018… We are saddened by this turn of events, and disappointed that our efforts to keep the People’s Co-op Bookstore going have fallen short. The store is not closing because the community hasn’t supported it. The bookstore has probably never been busier. The last five years have shown us that the Co-op fulfills a number of vital roles in East Vancouver.”
This is not necessarily a bad landlord/brave indie story. Although the store had a very wide range of titles once you ploughed your way in, it has consistently featured hard leftist titles in the window (lots of Soviet stuff, e.g.) and in the prime space just inside the door that reduced its potential clientele.
There is also the storefront design – there are two storeys of apartments above and the shops are indented about 6 feet from the sidewalk – a kind of bricky loggia. This gloomspace between the sidewalk and the front door reduces the impact of anything they put in the windows. It is the only building on The Drive designed like this.
I don’t know whether a rent increase was the tipping point, but the recent demise of neighbourhood standards like Wonderbucks and The Little Nest indicate a trend. And it’s impossible not to notice the expensive German sedan that just happens to be in the Google street view above. Grandview is gentrifying.


  1. The three businesses mentioned here were hardly neighbourhood standards. Wonderbucks was rubbish. Little Nest was a guaranteed-to-fail business model. The People’s Co-op Bookstore – an intellectual waste of paper. Real leftists use the library.
    The real neighbourhood standards are Santa Barbara; the Pork Ladies; Norman’s (that’s for sale); the Calabria; infamous Joe’s Cafe; the PCOV; the Continental; Federico’s – that’s been around for a bit, but it’s also a business model that has no future – dine and dance doesn’t pay. Circling Dawn was one of the coolest organic food stores. Too bad it failed – to be replaced by blech. Had the best veggie cabbage rolls there, but the labour cost to make them would have been astronomical; and many of their dishes were dreadful – real hit or miss. Sweet Cherubim is a standard – they probably own the building.

    1. “Real leftists use the library.”
      LOL! Quite true. But there is also the digital library known as the internet.

  2. That expensive German sedan is actually a Cadillac, built in Detroit. There are vacant storefronts everywhere in Vancouver, as outrageous land prices lead to insane tax bills for small businesses.

    1. Google Street Views, (Google.ca/maps ) which has an archive from 2009, only shows one scene of 1391 Commercial Drive with a car in front (2014). The rest of the timeline was photographed on a parked-car empty-street.

  3. Another sad loss for the Drive. Whether you like these businesses or not, the loss of small independent businesses to national or international chains is a loss of character for the neighborhood. Increasing commercial property taxes and rising rents are increasing hard costs much faster than inflation. You can only pass on increased costs to the extent that the customer base can afford to pay – and workers are not getting much in pay raises, not for a long time.
    I try to shop and buy locally as much as is practical, and the Drive is great place to this day with an interesting variety of businesses. As we sell out our real estate and other assets to the highest bidder, we risk losing the unique character of this and other neighborhoods.

    1. In 1972 their location was Pender street near Victory square (.Probably several years before that) . They probably relocated to the Drive for cheaper rent.

        1. Spartacus was upstairs on Hasting street . Peoples co op bookstore was on corner of Homer & Pender ( below what is now a backpacker hostel). Both close to Victory square

          1. Ah, okay. I remembered that Spartacus moved to ground-floor premises a few blocks away after that big fire.

      1. People’s Co-op Bookstore 421 West Pender (under the Labour Temple, which had moved from 411 Dunsmuir, and would move to 643 West Broadway) was founded in 1945 and the retail store in 1947. Nice selection of British socialist literature, Soviet Life magazines in the window and such.
        [ There were Marxist and Trotskyite bookstores moving around town in small back offices and stores over the decades. Often this was a meeting place for like-minded groups.
        A Beijing backed bookstore on the unit block of West Hastings near Carrall Street, called China Arts and Crafts followed the Cultural Revolution styles in China (see the Karin Lee film “Comrade Dad” (2005)). You could buy lurid colour pictorials of the 1950s China, and a myriad of language editions of “Quotations of Chairman Mao]
        See Earle Birney’s “Down the Long Table” (1955, 1975) for the period ambiance
        People’s Co-op has relied for years on large bequests (mentions in the wills) of old comrades, But when you take that these donors were in their 30s in the 1950s, these are few and far between now (age 95s).
        See Vancouver Archives: turning-65-and-not-retiring-peoples-co-op-bookstore-sixty-fifth-anniversary-celebration January 22, 2010.
        Seattle’s Red and Black, also a collective, closed in March 1999 having moved from the frothing University District to Capitol Hill.
        Left Bank Books 92 Pike St. was a breakaway of Red and Black in 1973, and still exists.

  4. So what does it take to become a neighbourhood institution? The Little Nest when it first moved in displaced a reasonably decent Thai which in turn had displaced a vaguely central European cafe. Little nest’s overpriced child friendliness was doomed to failure in a fractured market such as the Drive.
    I’m not sure why we accept nostalgic whinings about a purveyor of rabid left wing propaganda. When I first moved into the neighbourhood they had a somewhat broader range of product. While on Joe’s wall the graffiti read “for your next B&E choose a yuppie. Face up to it. On the balance of things the Drive is improving,

    1. Well, GS, the reason I’m nostalgically whining about the impending demise of Co-op Books is that for 72 years they provided tools to aid the search for viable alternatives– and to strengthen opposition– to “purveyors of rabid” rightwing “propaganda” such as yourself. (I’ve been a sporadic customer of the store since the mid-70s, not that that matters much now.) But if you think the Drive’s ongoing degeneration into yet another yupster playpen in a city increasingly full of them is an improvement, that pretty much tells me everything I need to know about you. And your inability to “accept” the viewpoint of folks like me makes me feel pretty darn validated, if you wanna know. Thanks. To adapt John Donne: Each bookstore’s death diminishes me… and all of us.

  5. Prior to Little Nest it was a somewhat scuzzy Brazilian place. The space has no venting, and the landlord is a beast. No one will survive there.
    Havana Restaurant has had staying power – but that boils down to the lease. Renewal is often the death knell. Lessees are frighteningly naive about commercial leases. It would behoove them to hire a professional before signing on the dotted line. The old guy who doubled his insurance payout after the WTC bombing has a 99 year lease on that property. That’s a lease. If optimistic entrepreneurs can’t get a serious lease, or an option to purchase, they’re pissing in the wind. Katz’s Deli, and the Veau d’Or in NY own their properties. Peter Luger’s probably does too. They can afford to become institutions. Others are a flash in the pan.
    Nick’s Spaghetti House is an institution to some, though it’s a puzzle why anyone would want to eat there. The Grotto del Formaggio and Calabria Cafe have a following too. Odds are these all own their properties.
    Bad leases kill even good businesses.
    Even a successful operation like Rotten Ronnies isn’t in the burger and fries business. That’s just a way to pay for the real estate.

    1. Maybe having a good lease explains why Womyn’s Ware is still going strong. Or they just offer more satisfying products than most.

      1. But note that Womyn’s Ware, 896 Commercial Drive, halved its space a few years ago.
        You can find complaints of customers “showrooming” (examining goods in the store and the ordering from Amazon/OtherSexShop etc.when they walk out) in various accounts.
        See the Georgia Straight of March 12th, 2014 “Womyns’ Ware’s feminist values collide with corporate greed” and other stories.

    2. About Nick’s: twenty years ago I was in line and saw them nuking all their pastas in a big bank of microwaves and I left the line and never went back.

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