Photos of Marché St. George in east Vancouver - see slideshow
On a groggy grey Sunday morning like yesterday sometimes you need something out of the ordinary to lift you from your slumber. For me it's a hot Caffè Americano and a pain au chocolate from a new neighbourhood shop called Marché St. George just 2 blocks from my house. Marché St. George is another signal of the growing trend of "local" in select Vancouver neighbourhoods – as in locally grown, produced or marketed.
Located in a building built in 1901 on East 28th Avenue & St. George (halfway between Fraser & Main) the Marché now occupies a space that has struggled to find a new occupant for years. Perhaps of the city's zoning the space hasn't worked as residential (there are three apartments in the building). Finding the right business to situate itself at this crossroads of single-family homes has been a challenge.
The Marché's owner is Pascal, who speaks either French, English or both to his now faithful customers. Sunday just after the doors opened crowds appeared to get their morning caffeine and sweets fix. He purchased the building and began renovating it early last year. One of the messier jobs was removing the glass-chip stucco exterior to reveal the original wood siding. The interior of the shop is simple and warm, with just a few chairs and cushions. The big windows facing southeast bring in lots of light.
The fridges are full of cheeses produced in Agassiz, BC, as well as delicious looking sausages, milk and even free range birds for cooking. The shelves have many imported items such as biscuits and cooking ingredients from Europe, and even some compostable baby products (Pascal has a young family). See my photo slideshow of the shop. A delicious assortment of baked goodies sourced from Arbutus Street sit on the front counter to tempt you. And as I described earlier, the coffee is simply amazing.
The whole feel of the Marché is how much of the owners is expressed within the space. Pottery sold is done by a family member. Photography hung on the walls is also taken by them. However, the cloth blankets lying under a table are imported from Lithuania, I'm told.
Marché St. George is a simple family business, and for the neighbourhood I live in it's a welcome change. These shops used to dot communities all over Vancouver. When I was a kid we'd call them Chinese stores, because they almost always were run by Chinese immigrant families. They were the spot I topped up my sugar addiction on Tahiti Treat soda, Popeye Candy Cigarettes or Sweet Tarts.
Today's shop is much more suited to grown up tastes, and thanks to items like whole grain foods, a lot healthier.
Shops like Marché St. George signal some of the growing affluence moving eastward across the city. At one time you'd only expect a shop like this in Kitsilano or Mackenzie Heights. Just a few years ago the Home-Growin' shop opened in a similar non-commercial setting, at the corner of Columbia Street & West 18th. I know the location well because I lived across the street from that spot for two years in the mid-90s. Back then no one could imagine that you could run a successful commercial establishment way off the beaten path. However, today Home-Growin' is doing a booming business.
Another small neighbourhood shop that has changed the character of its surroundings is Seb's Market Café on East Broadway. Just a few years ago the area around Fraser & Broadway was struggling to get past the hookers and other bad actors inhabiting the streets, but as the affordability of detached houses forced buyers east, so came the customers for shops like Seb's and Marché St. George.
As someone who has lived in the vicinity of Fraser Street for eight years now, I've been skeptical of any claims that "Fraser is the new Main". But changes are afoot, and the arrival of Fraser Street's first "hipster hangout" – the Outpost Café at beside 24th Avenue – is another positive sign.
What spaces will be next? There are some of these old local shops that once sold candy and cigarettes before 7-11 stores popped up everywhere that are sitting idle. For example there is one on East 35th Avenue & St. Catherines that you can see closed up in this Google Street View image. The locations might be there, and perhaps even the customers. However, finding the right person to put the effort into building the business is far more elusive.
We're pretty lucky to have someone like Marché St. George's charming proprietor Pascal and his family arrive in the neighbourhood, plus venues like the Outpost Café, and I'm hopeful for their success and longevity.
If you have your own favourite shops you'd like to mention, share them in the comments below.
- post by Mike