Life & Death of Grandview’s Corner Grocery Stores

In an earlier post, we had described the presentation to GHG of the work created by our UBC student intern, Kevin Shackles, on the history, decline, and future of corner stores in Grandview, and their relationship to the development of retail business in the 20th century.

Kevin’s excellent illustrated thesis can now be viewed as a pdf file.

It is full of interesting analysis, photographs, and histories of specific corner stores in our neighbourhood.  We hope you find it as interesting and valuable as we have.

Scott’s and other grocery stores

As reported in the previous post, Scott’s Grocery is having a close-out sale; Steve and Esther, who have run it for more than 20 years, are retiring to Burnaby, the building has been sold, and the new owner reportedly wants to build “apartments” on the RM4-zoned site. Here’s Scott’s in Google Street View:


… and a watercolour I painted of it a couple of years ago.


Heritage staff at City Hall are aware of the property and have “put a mark on its file” that would flag it to any potential developer making an enquiry to demolish and replace. The lot, which is 33 x 120 feet, is too small to contemplate any sort of multi-family structure, and we haven’t heard of any attempted lot assembly on that side of the street – please let us know if you hear of anybody snuffling around looking to buy up the rest of the block. Under the Heritage Action Plan, the Director of Planning would have the right to deny a development permit for heritage reasons if there is any conditional use or non-conformities involved. Anyway, that’s way off in the future, we hope.

The question is whether the new owner will eventually see the building and its grandfathered commercial use as an asset and look for a new tenant that could make it cool, as have Via Tevere at William, Monarchy Boutique at Charles, South China Trading Company at Grant and Figaro’s at 3rd – all former grocery stores. This is only a partial list of the former commercial spaces dotted along Victoria Drive, all of which ought to be retained as they contribute to the uniqueness of our ‘hood.

Heritage Vancouver has posted Scott’s on its Facebook page.

Grandview’s former grocery stores would make a fascinating subject for a research project and presentation. For example, here’s a 1960s-era city planning department photo from the City of Vancouver Archives of the McLean Grocery on McLean at Napier, showing how bleak and un-vegetated the area once was (so typical of the city’s old neighbhourhoods in that era).


And the more-or-less current scene, from vPike:


Any volunteers to do the research and source photos?

The Growth of Restaurants on The Drive

I was recently asked about the growth of the number of restaurants on the Drive and I happen to have a graph I made in 2010 that shows that growth.

The graph below shows the number of eating places on the Drive between Venables and the Cut annually from 1935 to 1956.  In addition, the last two columns show the number in 1982 and 2010.


We have added even more since 2010.

The first reaction might well be, isn’t that wonderful — all these places to eat!  Yes, but for most of the 80+ restaurants we have added since the 1950s means that some other business had to close, businesses that had some value to the residential neighbourhood that Grandview is outside the Drive. Where now do we buy furniture, or appliances, get our shoes repaired, etc etc?

More On The Buftons

In another place, I have written about a marvelous lunch I had this week with JoAnn Bufton, granddaughter of Hubert and Catherine Bufton, founders of the florist shop that flourished on the Drive from 1920 through the mid-1980s. In addition to the wonderful oral history she was able to provide, she also gave me some images of the shops. This first one is the store at 1520 Commercial Drive, and is therefore from before December 1955.

1520 Commercial Drive1

The second is from after they moved to 1675 Commercial, in the Bentholme Building.

1675 Commercial Drive1

Excellent examples of historic window dressing, for which Bufton’s won numerous awards.

Next Event: Talk On December 8th

At 3pm on Saturday 8th December, the Grandview Heritage Group will sponsor an illustrated talk by Jak King on “The Birth of Our Community: Grandview 1890-1915.” It was this quarter-century that turned Commercial Drive and Grandview from a raw forest to one of Vancouver’s primary residential and shopping centres.

The talk will take place at the CFEC Room upstairs at Family Place at the south end of Britannia Community Centre facing Grandview Park (1655 William Street.)

Seats are limited and so we would welcome a note in advance to to let us know you will be coming.  We will be asking for a $10 donation to assist the work of the GHG.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Kluckner and Kodachrome

What could be better — GHG’s own Michael Kluckner and beautiful Kodachrome photographs!

I’m sorry I didn’t post about this earlier, but tomorrow afternoon (Sunday) is the date — 2:00pm at Vancouver Archives — for Michael’s lecture on behalf of the Friends of the Archives.  Go to it — it will be raining anyway — and you’ll have a master storyteller talking about Vancouver’s commercial photographers.   Good stuff!

 Update:   This turned out to be a sold-out affair with a heap of good money raised for the Friends of the Archives.  Great presentation and good to see at least one of the featured photographers (Dan Propp) there to talk with us.

Commercial Drive Photographers

In a previous post about photographs, I mentioned that the Drive had rarely been without a photographer and associated services.  Following up, here is a list of all those artists and stores from the founding of Commercial Drive through to 1999:

  • Philip Timms (1912)
  • Merchants Photo Co. (1912)
  • Grandview Studio (1915-1918)
  • Vancouver Photo Finishing (1921-1978)
  • Grandview Photo Finishing (1922-1930)
  • Fox Studio (1934)
  • Jay’s Photographic Studio (1938)
  • Beardmore Studio (1938-1939)
  • Vincent Studio Photography (1942-1954)
  • Illustra Photography (1955-1956)
  • McKenzie Photography (1955-1964)
  • Bowman Photography (1957-1968)
  • Zonta Photo Service (1960-1962)
  • Western Photo Service (1961-1962)
  • Philip Timm’s Workshop (1962-1968)
  • Grandview Studio (1965-1968)
  • Photo Monte Grappa (1965-1981)
  • McKenzie’s Grandview Studio Photography (1966-1967)
  • Tivoli Photo Services (1968-1971)
  • Album Photo Services (1968-1973)
  • Perfect Photo Finish (1976-1977)
  • Creative Portraits (1977-1978)
  • Winkler Photo Technology (1978-1981)
  • Vancouver Photo & Hobby (1980-1999)
  • Parmar Photo Finishing (1981-1989)
  • Photo Salon (1987)
  • Photo Shop (1987-1988)
  • Golden Crown Photo (1989-1990)
  • Photo Franco (1989-1991)
  • Ming Photoland (1990-1999)

Data from “The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive“.

Meeting Notes

We had a marvelous meeting last night, with lively discussion on a wide range of topics.  These included:

  • our Centenary Signs project (the signs will be ready next week);
  • the age of the buildings on the 1200-block Lakewood Drive (1909 and 1910);
  • wallpaper stylings in early heritage homes;
  • the large number of “party hats” (or conical roofs) on the Queen Anne houses in Grandview (and how we can encourage their return on buildings that have lost them);
  • the development of radio and its impact on Commercial Drive retail;
  • early electricifation for homes and businesses; and
  • the history of bay and oriel windows (a signature style in Commercial Drive, for example)

We also determined on a series of walking tours for the fall and a lecture series in the winter.  More details on these will be forthcoming shortly.

It’s amazing how quickly two hours goes by!  Our next meeting is on the 16th of August and, as always, everyone is welcome.

Drug Stores On the Drive

One of our currently vacant storefronts is about to be taken over by, I believe, Pharmasave.  Several people have said to me:  “Why do we need another drug store on the Drive?”  Fair enough question, and it led to me to see how many drug stores we have had on the Drive historically.  The following is a chronological list of such stores from the Drive’s beginning until 1999:

  • Royal Drug Company (1910-1914)
  • Tucker’s Drugs (1910)
  • Cochrane & Campbell (1911)
  • Vancouver Drugs (1911-1939)
  • Brown & Dawson (1913)
  • Grandview Drugstore (1915-1928)
  • Reliable Drugs (1915-1999)
  • Royal Drug Store (1915-1955)
  • Cunningham Drugs (1940-1969)
  • Docksteader Drugs (1956-1963)
  • Druggists Bulletin Service (1956-1967)
  • Fred’s Pharmacy (1963-1999)
  • Shoppers Drug Mart (1972-1989)
  • Tech Drugmart (1977)
  • Circle Drugs (1979-1980)
  • Pacific Pharmacy (1980-1982)
  • Service Drugs Pharmacy (1986-1992)
  • Health Point Pharmacy (1987)
  • People’s Drugs (1990-1995)
  • Commercial Drug Mart (1998-1999)

One of the things that jumps out from this list is that no new pharmacies opened on the Drive between 1915 and 1940.  This shows, I suspect, the market dominance of Louis Toban’s Reliable Drug Stores which had four branches on the Drive between Parker and Broadway.

Data from “The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive“.

Historic Victoria Drive Building Unveils 1920s Ad Mural and New Tenant

March 23, 2012, two hours after the grand opening

On Friday evening, March 23, 2012, Dominic and Giorgio Morra’s Via Tevere PIzzeria Napoletana opened for business, clearly a unique local business and a welcome addition to the neighbourhood. It actually gives the neighbourhood a whole new feel after the  vacant, run down storefront that was there for about a decade. And thanks again to them for saving the historic sign! And what a great little vintage car they park out front, the Fiat 500  ‘Cinquecento’ that was introduced back in 1957.

Last fall the workers removing stucco on the old Doctor Vigari building (Victoria Drive at William Street) revealed an amazing 1920s advertising mural. Hidden for decades was a classic cartoon baker flogging fresh 4X bread from the ovens of Vancouver’s successful Shelly Bakery.

By wonderful coincidence the old mural could pass for a mural depicting a chef making a pizza.

Also historically speaking, besides being the original home of Dr. Vigari art gallery (now at 1816 Commercial Drive), this building was the location of the bookstore where the climatic scene of the movie Better Than Chocolate was filmed in 1999. The movie was directed by Anne Wheeler and featured Canadian actors Ann Marie MacDonald (the novelist) and Jay Brazeau. The plot was very Commercial Drive: “Two attractive young lesbians, Maggie and Kim, meet in Vancouver, develop a passionate romance, and move in together…” One scene was based on the infamous lesbian kissing incident at nearby Joe’s Cafe, two blocks down William Street at Commercial Drive.

The bookstore in Better Than Chocolate was a representation of Vancouver’s Little Sisters Bookstore, and the plot covers some of the historic censorship issues that Little Sisters had to content with back in the stone age of the 1980s.