Architecture
June 1, 2020

The Corner Store in the West End

Say “corner store in the West End” … and the romantic among us think of this:

Most aren’t really ‘corner stores’ of course – more remnants of an age prior to ‘Euclidian’ zoning when the owner of a house with a front yard could build a storefront to the sidewalk and open for business, providing, as Sandy describes below, “a place where locals can buy milk, cheese, some staples and hear the local goings on and gossip.”

When I first moved to the West End in 1978, there was such a place literally down the lane – empty now – operated by a Korean immigrant family whose daughter I watched start to turn into a teenager.  (Perhaps now writing a novel or screenplay on the west-coast version of Kim’s Convenience.)

No wonder we feel so romantic about them, though many of those that remain are really coffee shops, able to survive on the caffeine mark-up and artisanal sundries.

For places that never had such conversions in their post-war history – starting with ’50s suburbs like Oakridge – corner stores of this kind are not allowed today, and there are reasons.  A new structure would have to be built, and it would require rezoning, raising two problematic challenges: parking and the impacts, perceived or otherwise, real or mistaken, on the present neighbours.  Ask the opinion of someone who would live in their single-family home next door to a design-controlled, limited-service, locally serving commercial establishment without parking, and then wonder whether the proposal would survive the public consultation process.

In reality, of course, there are still corner stores.  They’re very viable, selling diary, staples and many flimsy packages of fat, sugar and salt in all their processed variations, and they look like this:

They may be the only places, under 20,000 square feet, that can meet the ‘popsicle test’ – where your kids can go out by themselves to a store safely to purchase a popsicle and return home before it melts.

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Remember the corner store in your neighbourhood?

Coming out of the pandemic is the need to access goods right in your neighbourhood. The local corner store used to fill this role, with shopkeepers knowing everyone in the neighbourhood, and providing a place where locals can buy milk, cheese, some staples and hear the local goings on and gossip.

In an article written last Fall by Jesse Johnston with the CBC there were 226 business licences for Vancouver convenience stores in 2018, 86 less than ten years ago. Many used to be run by new immigrants as a way to learn the language and to work independently in a new place. But rising property taxes and the fact that residential zoning does not allow the use of corner stores as an outright use makes it difficult for these family owned convenience stores to continue.

Corner grocery stores are existing non conforming uses in residential areas. Stop running a corner store in the premises for six months, and a new lessee cannot receive permission to reopen the store, no matter how compelling the case.

But as civic historian and former City of Vancouver staffer John Atkin observes, corner stores are “community meeting places”  where people can gather. Quebec Street’s Federal Store is an example of a convenience store that has remorphed into a cafe, as has Keefer Street’s Wilder Snail which also provides fresh baking and groceries.

Vancouver still has some of the localized neighbourhood market fabric in existence on the west side at Mackenzie Street and 33rd Avenue an on the east side at Nanaimo and Charles.  These are grandfathered in businesses from a time fifty years ago when the car was king, and driving  to shop at big malls with plentiful parking was a “thing”.

This returning trend  of neighbourhood level  convenience shopping that can be accessed by walking or by bike is described in this article by Architect Toon Dreessen who talks about the “popsicle test”. Can your kid go out by themself to a store safely to purchase a popsicle and return home before it melts? “And is there even a corner store for them to shop at?”

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As Vancouver enters the recovery phase in the pandemic and starts opening up commercial businesses, it is important for locals to get out and patronize them. Chains and franchises will have broader support, but the independent shops will be relying on locals to make the difference.

Last week Randy Shore in the Vancouver Sun wrote about the challenges for shop owners on Jim Deva plaza, Bute Street at Davie. With  store fronts having articulated facades it was a perfect place for homeless folks to camp out in while the stores were closed. One shop owner found several people camped “in her entryway smoking meth and using heroin”.

Their calls to the Business Improvement Area helped carve out an approach for the business to open and to provide a level of safety and security for customers.  While the Provincial government has assisted to find accommodation for over two hundred people who had been living in Openheimer Park, there have simply been more vacant storefronts in the west end available to provide  refuge for homeless people.

Tyee writer Stanley Woodvine has been detailing how challenging it is for homeless people on the street during the pandemic. Think of it~there are no libraries or public commmunity centres  to sit in to warm up or read the newspaper, nowhere to check a computer terminal. Most public washrooms are closed,  and there’s no places to wash hands or fill a water bottle.

There’s a similar situation causing friction between business owners and homeless people occurring in the 500 and 600 blocks of Evans Avenue which is close to the railway terminal.  Evans Avenue runs parallel to Terminal Avenue near the East 1st Avenue overpass.

There’s a mix of industrial and business offices across from a grassy hill that abuts the railroad yards. No  water access  or latrines exist on that grassy knoll which is private land.  The  homeless people camping on it have no services of any kind.  Neighbouring businesses have experienced altercations and break ins, with one large business having to keep vehicles inside the warehouse instead of the parking lot during the day to stop metal theft. Their garbage bins are commandeered  to provide privacy screens for latrine use, and the businesses’  front entrance ways shelter drug users.

 

That area falls outside the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan and is not in the subarea for the Strathcona Business Improvement Area. While the business owners did call the City of Vancouver inspectors several times because of defecation, garbage, and female staff being accosted, there was never a resolution. On the weekend a 24 foot motor home burnt up  on the street , taking the Fire Department one hour to douse.

 

It’s clear that the City’s post pandemic plan does need to include what Councillor Pete Fry calls “intertwined” issues “such as homelessness, public safety and business recovery.” 

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The striping is on the asphalt like a new suit of well-cut clothes: It makes the Richards Bike Lane look smart.  This is the street engineer as designer and tailor.

 

What’s different about this one over Dunsmiur and Hornby?

Trees.

 

Imagine cycling on the Hornby Bike Lane past Robson Square … two rows of trees to one side, a gothic frame for the sidewalk.

 

Now imagine cycling with trees on both sides.

Voila, Richards.

 

 

 

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From Jeff Leigh of HUB, with photos by Clark.

Construction continues on Richards Street, with the new protected bi-directional bike lanes.  These lanes replace the painted lanes that were one way, and will provide valuable connections to our downtown cycling network.

Construction is underway from Cordova to Nelson.  This summer City crews will shift to the southern end of Richards and complete the improvements through to Pacific Boulevard..

Details here.

The planter boxes for the new street trees. (There are 100 trees planned.)

PT: Planning and construction for Richards did not take decades obviously, but the route to get to this point goes back to the 1970s when, after lobbying and advocacy by many of our two-wheeled pioneers, the first vision was developed by the cycling advisory committee and then approved by Council in the early 1980s.  From there, it took decades more to approve funding in capital plans, to develop specific work plans, to evolve ever more advanced designs (particularly the separated bi-directional routes pioneered on Dunsmuir Street), and to commit to a completely integrated network not only through downtown but across the city and region. That may take decades more.

But as the Beach Flow Way and the new Slow Streets show, it’s possible to advance a decades-long vision in a matter of months.  They, however, are temporary and experimental.  When you start pouring concrete, it’s best to have done the detail work only possible by building on the work of generations past.

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America Walks presents a new webinar  on walkability and public art.

Promoting walking in communities with noticeable disinvestment can be difficult. Public art is one way to lend to the revitalization of a neighborhood and invite people to be part of the process. This webinar will feature ways public art has been used to embrace the culture and history of a community while promoting engaging, walkable spaces. This webinar is intended for those just starting out on the walking path as well as those interested in learning more about the topic.

Presenters:

Ophelia Chambliss is a muralist, artist, educator in York, Pennsylvania who creates custom murals and public art pieces. She specializes in murals that project a message, serve a purpose, create community, and are a reflection of her client’s mission and objectives.

 

Karla Osete is an Artist in Residence at LaLinea Art Studio, Controller at CanAm Pepper Company, Mountain Bike Coach for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association and Former Vice President of 0S3 Movement. She was a 2017 Walking College fellow, has a master’s degree in Business Administration, bachelor’s in accounting and associate degree in Art and Dance.

Melissa Johnson, Cultural Recreation Manager, has been with the Town of Matthews Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resource Department since August 2017. She manages the Matthews Community Center and the McDowell Arts Center, oversees summer camps and all programs at these facilities, and oversees public art for the Town of Matthews.

 

Date:  Wednesday June 10, 2020

Time: 11am PST

You can register by clicking on this link.

Images: Walkscore

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As part of its covid response, the City is providing “Room to Queue” – the reallocation of curb lanes next to essential businesses like grocery stores that use adjacent sidewalks for line-ups.  As seen in this example, sent in by Dianna, the lane in front of Urban Fare in Yaletown allows pedestrians enough distance to bypass the otherwise crowded sidewalk.

Here’s a video of the queue lane in front of Urban Fare in Yaletown: UF queue (1)

The use of your basic traffic barriers allows a quick if not exactly aesthetic response in an emergency.  Here’s an opportunity for Jimmy Pattison’s chain, Urban Fare, to commission artists, as did the Downtown Vancouver BIA with those plywood window hoardings, to add some fun, colour and comment to the street.

Notice, as well, the signage on the parking meters, providing a self-evident notice that they aren’t going to be in use anytime soon.  Maybe never.

This is a space that’s not likely to return to its pre-March-2020 condition.  Urban Fare may expand their outdoor seating and display spaces more comfortably on the sidewalk now that there is breathing room.  Maybe an outdoor art gallery?  E-bike charging?   They, along with their customers and neighbours, may decide that this makes far better use of the asphalt than redundant car parking.  (There’s more than the store actually needs in the underground garage.)

A return of the taxi stand is in order, but now there’s room for many of the other increasing demands on curb space.  Indeed, that one parking lane, as lucrative as it is for the City in meter revenues, is far more valuable for current and coming uses* that will need curb access.

Put it on the list of ‘things that we need to do in a post-covid city’:  The curb lane is no longer for parking of vehicles by default – one use among many that may be of greater importance to the community.

 

* Here’s one that also comes to mind: If the current bus fleet loses capacity due to distancing requirements, buses could make up some of the difference with transit-only lanes that have in the past been resisted (West Vancouver R2, Georgia Street permanently, not just in rush hours). 

 

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At the very moment when Vancouver Council was discussing and approving Lisa Dominato’s motion to move forward on a network of slow streets, I was cycling on the first ones – the streets from New Brighton to Queen Elizabeth Park.  It’s essentially the linking of the Gladstone Bikeway with the Ridgeway Greenway – hence fast and cheap to do ($2 a kilometre – not a misprint) and in place even before the motion was passed.

It was a nostalgic experience.  I was on Council when the Ridgeway Greenway was opened, so it’s wonderful to still be around as it, like me, tries to age well.  Indeed, not much has changed: still the same route through streets, parks and lanes, with still the same public art and amenities (like the wonderful Windsor Castle children’s sand box.)*

It’s only some of the signage that is showing wear and tear.

The greatest change: the turnover in housing – mainly just one (seemingly) single-family house for another.  But the quality and design of that housing clearly demonstrates the change in cost and class that has crossed over Cambie into the East Side.

From still-intact Vancouver Specials …

.. to the latest version of the McMansion:

What was possibly the most surprising discovery was tə cecəw (The Beach) at 137 East 37th – a social housing project of 46 studio units operated by Coast Mental Health and funded by BC Housing.  (Remember the controversy over this one?  I don’t either.)

It’s classed as “temporary modular housing” – but doesn’t look temporary.  (I’d recognize the designer, but don’t know who it is.  Please add below if you know.)

What was the use on the slow streets on a weekeday afternoon?  Modest, intermittent, but a good mix.  Lots of kids.  I especially liked the mother and daughter tackling one of the steepest hills.

On the way home, I headed down the Ontario Bikeway – joining a continual stream of cyclists on one of the heaviest used cycling arterials in the city.  But, with an almost total absence of cars, a quiet experience.  Here’s what I heard in order of their volume: human voices passing by, a lawn mower, the sound of bike tires on asphalt, birds.  (Oh wait, a car a block away.  Nope, it’s gone.)

 

*Thanks to the pioneers who made it possible – from Moura Quayle who chaired the Greenways Task Force to staff (like our own Sandy James) who implemented the vision.

 

 

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I have been writing  that cities need to be nimble during this slow reopening shops and services.  Facilitating reopening of commercial operations will mean having the appropriate space to line up to enter with appropriate physical distancing.  And in some cases with food services, expanded outdoor space during the summer will mean the difference between being able to open with an appropriate number of tables to make a business profitable.

Brendan and Amanda Ladner  reopened  their Pender location of the  SMAK healthy food emporium as a takeaway, with an innovative  curbside “glide through” counter option using city parking spaces. They hoped that there would be a way that other restauranteurs would be able to have a streamlined way of using city owned space on sidewalks and elsewhere to start up their businesses in a safe and reasonable way.

At the Council meeting on May 27th, Council agreed to develop a quick process to allow applications for temporary patios, and agreed to waive the fees. These permits are temporary to October 31 and are non renewable. This initiative is similar to the one approved by the City of Winnipeg four weeks ago as a way for restaurants to operate when Covid guidelines mean they can be only at fifty percent capacity.

Temporary patios for restaurants must be right in front of the restaurant or beside it, and may use either the sidewalk or the “back boulevard”, that public space that is between the sidewalk and the building.

The patio may also occupy parking spaces and must provide appropriate ramps for accessibility to the space.

Vancouver restaurant owners will be able to apply for the temporary patios on June 1st  and can expect a two day turnaround for approval. Typically fees collected by the city are in the $3,000 range for a temporary patio permit, but all fees will be waived this year.

You can take a look at this Council presentation that outlines some of the potential configurations for the temporary outdoor patios.

Of course accessibility and the ability of all users to access the sidewalk as well as use the temporary patio is going to be paramount, and there’s no negotiation on that.

Take a look  at this YouTube video of an  outdoor patio  in downtown Ottawa on Preston Street  that could not provide the required two meter width requirement on the sidewalk back in 2018. Instead of simply moving their fence back for compliance, the restaurant argues to take out the two street trees or leave things as they are, because “the street is inaccessible anyway”.

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