The Rise and Fall of the Grocery Store!

Recently, I wrote that Calgary’s greater downtown communities are being well served by the numerous existing supermarket chains and specialty grocers.  However, several readers questioned me about the need/opportunity for boutique urban grocery stores given the numerous condos popping up everywhere around the downtown.

Their comments haunted me for a few weeks until recently, when west driving along 20th Avenue NW from 10th to 19th street (where there is a mid-century corner store every few blocks).  I was reminded how Calgary’s inner city communities, when first developed in the ‘40s and ‘50s, all had “mom and pop” mini, grocery stores every few blocks. 

The mid-century corner store was critical to the walkability of those communities (back then it was one car per family).  It was not large, in fact no larger than neighbouring houses at about 1,000 square feet. Some were two storeys; others had an attached home to create the equivalent of today’s live/work space. The stores were usually located on major community access roads (like 20th Ave NW) that were enroute to other places, making them very convenient.

It had no surface parking lot, nor a requirement for assigned street parking - neighbours just accepted cars would pull up, get what they needed and drive off.  There were no concerns about children’s safety, even though they regularly played on the street. It was a place where kids as young as six years old could be sent to pick up a loaf of bread, a jug of milk and even occasionally allowed to spend the change on a treat from the penny candy selection.

It was also a time when people didn’t demand organic foods, exotic fruits from their favourite boutique orchard in Okanagan, farm-to-table vegetables or artisan breads.. It was a time of instant coffee and canned vegetables. People didn’t drive across the city to get their favourite coffee beans or find that specialty spice for an ethnic-inspired dish.

It was all about basic foods bought at convenient locations.  The “mom and pop” corner store, evolved into chain convenience stores like 7-Elevens and Mac’s, in the ‘60s, which served a similar purpose but weren’t located every few blocks. 

Jimmy's A&A Deli is located at the corner of 20th Ave and 13th St NW. 

Browns's Grocery is located at 20th Ave and 11th St. NW.

Weeds Cafe is located at the corner of 20th Ave and 18th St. NW.  I expect it was a grocery store when first built. 

21st Century Corner/Convenience Store

Might bringing back the convenience store be something developers and city planners in Calgary should be looking at - both for established communities and new suburbs?   Would creating a land use that would allow a small corner store every few blocks along access roads in new communities make sense? Would people support them?

Perhaps the MBA yuppie types laid off in the oil patch might consider using their entrepreneurial skills to create the 21st century convenience store. Two good case studies for a model new convenience store can be found in Bridgeland, where both Lukes Drug Mart and Bridgeland Market, though very different, seem to be thriving. 

Lukes Drug Mart is very interesting model. Family-run since 1951 and today under Gareth Lukes’ leadership, it is more than just a drugstore - it is also a coffee bar (serving Four Barrel coffee from San Francisco), grocery store (basement) and hipster store (with numerous niche brands of specialty retail and dry goods).  In this tiny store, you can buy groceries, have a prescription filled, access to Canada Post office and shop for unique items like Rifle Paper cards, Vance Family Soy Candles or Mast Brothers Chocolate.

Did you know that Lukes was named one of the Top 11 new record stores in Canada by Aux (a Canadian specialty TV channel and website) in 2013?  Yes, Lukes carries vinyl too!

Bridgeland Market at the east end of First Avenue NE is a second example of a 21st century corner grocery store. Compared to Lukes, it is a more traditional mid-century corner grocery store but with a modern twist. They pride themselves on having some of the “rarest, freshest and most ethically created products in the community.”  You can complete their “Product Request” form online if there is something you think they should bring in and  sign up for Marketgrams for updates on when they’re cooking up something fresh.

Along with artisan breads of all kinds, you will find croissants and “Made by Markus” treats like macaroons.  Combine that with other offerings like Santa Cruz Lemonade and Green Cuisine tofu and you see how convenience food has morphed into today’s increased demand for organic comfort food.

However, like Lukes and even the mid 20th century corner store, Bridgeland Market is family-owned and operated. As they say, “we’re just a bunch of locals.”

Both Lukes and Bridgeland Market are small spaces - less than 2,000 square feet (the size of today’s typical Calgary home) and certainly not to be confused with new urban grocery stores like Urban Fare at 30,000 square feet, (coming soon to Lower Mount Royal), a Shoppers Drug Mart at the base of a condo building (15,000 square feet) or a destination supermarket (50,000+ square feet).

Lukes Drug Mart is located on 1st Ave at 4th St. NE

Bridgeland Market is located on 1st Ave and 10th St NE.

Bridgeland Market's provides great local grocery shopping.

Bring back the milkman?

All this thinking had me also wondering if the next evolution of grocery shopping isn’t the “bricks and mortar” local grocery store at all, but rather home delivery.  With the rise of online shopping, one can’t help but think the next step in the evolution of grocery stores will be to bring back the 21st century equivalent of the ‘50s bread man and milk man.

Instead of creating mega supermarkets or micro-grocery stores, everyone may well have a “Shopping List” App that links to a giant warehouse that will deliver your groceries and dry goods at your convenience. For those living in downtown condos, that would mean one less reason for owning a car.  And for everyone, it would free up a lot of time for extracurricular activities.

In fact, online grocery services already exist in Calgary. One is called Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (or Spud for short) focusing on organic food. Sunterra also has an online grocery ordering and delivery service, as does Walmart. 

Home milk delivery was common place until the late '60s in Calgary.

Last Word

Hmmm….could it be that in the future, at least some of those monolithic Walmart and Costco sites will become mixed-use condo villages? Never say never!

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Flaneuring Calgary's Original Craft Brewery

Flaneuring the fringe: 19th St. NW

Calgary's Cafe Culture

Flaneuring Calgary's original craft brewery

Long before Portland, Denver or (insert the name a city here) became the Craft Brewery Capital of North America and certainly long before Calgary’s Big Rock, Village or Wild Rose Breweries, there was Calgary Brewing and Malt Company (CB&MC) established back in 1892. Unfortunately the site on 9th Ave and 15th Street in Inglewood has been closed since 1994 and the buildings have deteriorated significantly.

 A few years back I attended a presentation by Calgary architect Lorne Simpson who also happens to be the city’s most experienced historical restoration expert on the state of the CB&MC buildings.  He has been responsible for most Calgary’s restoration projects for the past 25+ years.  The key take home message I got from his workshop was that most of the buildings were beyond restoration, pointing that many of the buildings had been added in such a way that if on was removed you had to remove several others as they were all supported each other.

While many have seen the full buffalo sculpture from 9th Avenue, this art deco style buffalo head in the middle of the site is a hidden gem. It definitely deserves to be a focal point of public space. 

This sandstone Calgary beer logo attached to the facade of this building also deserves a more prominent location with a storyboard. 

 

 

He did however off some suggestions on how the site might be developed to retain the industrial design character of those buildings while adapting them to new uses and modern building codes. While some of the audience was very disappointed that more of the site couldn’t be preserved, others were excited by the opportunity to create a unique industrial district that would keep some connection with Calgary’s past. 

 

 

My longtime mantra of linking vision with reality was put to the test for while one’s vision of a 21st century charming century brewery district with multiple 100-year-old buildings and garden with fish ponds, just didn’t jive with current economic, design and building code realities.  

This iconic buffalo has aged gracefully and it along with the previous two artifacts should be integrated to create a unique public space for the future Inglewood Brewery District (IBD). 

But seeing is believing…

For a while I have been bugging Eileen Stan, Development Program Manager, M2i Development Corporation to give me a tour.  Recently, our schedules jived and I got my wish.

I can’t believe how complex the redevelopment will be with numerous buildings scattered throughout the site making the location of major new buildings (needed to pay for the restoration) difficult.

Just one of areas where the sandstone foundation of the builiding is beginning to form mini hoodoos. 

Then there is the utilities right of way, set back from the street, CPR tracks and 17th Avenue (which use to run right through the middle of the site) to contend with.

I saw for myself how the sandstone on the buildings is “more sand than stone.” Brush it with your hand and sand pours down the side of the building, in some places, miniature hoodoos are being formed.

Inside, I saw how the building’s structure would make it difficult to convert to modern uses. Perhaps reusing materials makes more sense than repurposing the buildings.

The gardens and two buffalo sculptures were wonderful and would make a great tribute to the past. It would be lovely to somehow incorporate them into a plaza or pocket park that would be the centerpiece of a new brewery district.  

That is 17th Avenue SE which use to run right through the site and still has a utility right of way attached to it. 

Postcards from CB&MC

I am hoping that these images will help you appreciate the complexities of redeveloping the historic Calgary Brewing and Malting Company site for current uses. 

I am a sucker for "ghost signs" like this one for the The Alberta Government Fish Hatchery. Not sure how you save this wall and incorporate it into a new building/new use! I am told that it could become part of a sunny historic plaza that would document the full history of the site. 

In the middle of the site is a lush oasis of trees, walkways, bridges and concrete ponds. Not sure they are in the right location for a contemporary pocket park and they are at the end of their lifespand. 

One of the few building that is still in good shape, unfortunately it is not in a great position. 

There is an simplicity in the minimalist, cubist, industrial architecture of the brewery that could be respected in new buildings.  It is my understanding that the brick chimney will be preserved. It is kinda the Calgary Tower of Inglewood - should it remain the tallest structure in the community forever? 

There is a nice juxtaposition of the round and the rectangular shapes at IBD. 

This image illustrates how all of the building are interconnected, but each with different foundations and structures that makes restoration a nightmare. 

The interior spaces are very dramatic, but don't lend themselves to easy conversion to retail, office or residential uses. 

Some of the newer building from 1984 were never used and are actually overbuilt for future needs and have potential for adaptive reuse. 

Last Word

After walking around the site, I have a much better appreciation of the difficulties and complexities of redeveloping the site for modern uses - this is not a Currie Barracks, an East Village or a Bridges site. 

Rather than let the buildings further deteriorate and have a prominent site sit in limbo for another decade or more, the idea of developing the site incrementally starting with the Bottling Plant building as proposed by Stan’s team makes sense.  Great spaces and places happen organically, not systematically.

Though, some have suggested the need for a Master Plan before anything happens on the site, I disagree. We don’t want another “East Village” scenario (i.e. a new Master Plan developed every five to ten years with nothing happen for 30+ years).  Master Plans tend to all look the same anyway; I expect we will get something more unique and eclectic without a Master Plan.

 Jane Jacobs was also a big fan of incremental redevelopment rather than revolutionary redevelopment. I think she would have approved of starting by animating the 9th Avenue and 15th Street corner (across from the West Canadian Digital Print Centre) with some street retail like a ZYN wine and spirits store and warehouse. 

The Bottling Plant on the corner of 9th Avenue and 15th Street SE is being proposed as Phase 1 of the mega makeover of the Inglewood Brewery District. Different options for the restoration of the sign are being looked at. This is not the original sign.

This is a conceptual rendering of what the Bottling Plant and new streetscape will look like if Phase 1 is approved. 

This is the proposed site of the new BRT/ LRT station for Inglewood and Ramsay just two blocks from the Brewery District.  It will also link up with the 17th Avenue SE BRT route to create a major transit hub. The stars are beginning to align for two of Calgary's oldest communities.   

Mount Pleasant & Calgary's Other 4th Street

Some things you will only find in Mt. Pleasant.  Learn more later in this blog.

Thanks to the Bee Kingdom boys, I have discovered the up and coming community of Mount Pleasant, Velvet Café and Calgary’s newest Main Street (aka 4th Street NW from 23nd to 27th Avenues) – not to be confused with 4th St. SW in Mission. Mount Pleasant, home to 5,442 Calgarians, is bounded on the north by 32nd Avenue and Confederation Park, on the east by 2nd St. NW, on the west by 10th St. NW with 16th Ave NW at the south end.  Just 4 km to downtown and even less to the SAIT campus, it is full of recently completed or under construction infill developments that are attracting many new residents.

Back Story: Over the past year, I have become infatuated with the funky glass creatures and objects created by Ryan Marsh Fairweather and Phillip Bandura (aka Bee Kingdom) in a non descript garage behind a modest mid-century bungalow just off of 4th Street in east Mount Pleasant.  Though I have known and written (Galleries West magazine) about Bee Kingdom for a few years, it was their exhibition at the Glenbow Museum last summer and visit to their Fall studio open house that really got me excited about their work. As a result, we have been hanging out at Velvet Café strategizing about Bee Kingdom’s future.

The Red Cap Corner, home to the Velvet Cafe. 

The Velvet Café is nestled into a small two storey mixed-use development called Red Cap Corner (Yes, it has a red roof) that includes a couple of other shops at ground level and residences above.  Tough more suburban than urban with its off-street parking, it still creates great street ambience with its sidewalk patio and windows looking out onto the street. 

John Gilchrist (author of My Favourite Restaurants, Calgary, Canmore and beyond) speaks about Velvet as “a neighbourhood-friendly menu of fresh-made soups, hand-crafted Panini, delicately constructed pastas and house-baked muffins, all paired with Salt Spring Island coffee.”  He goes on to say, “Mount Pleasant’s 4th Street NW is burgeoning with restaurants – Shigatsu, 4th Spot, John’s Breakfast, Flavours and The Block.”

Did you know…Calgary’s first McDonald’s opened in 1968, at the corner of 4th St and 23rd Ave NW where a modern McDonald’s now sits? Mount Pleasant’s Main Street is also home to Plantation, a boutique garden centre located in what looks like an old service station.  Jane Jacobs, the late American/Canadian community revitalization activist and author of “The Death and Live of Great American Cities” would not only have been pleased with this adaptive reuse but also the eclectic nature of the merchants and architecture along 4th St. NW.

Plantation Garden Centre is located in a converted gas station.  Inside are lots of fun garden ornaments including the green globes.

Art Connection

North Mount Pleasant Arts Centre helps create a unique character to Mount Pleasant and 4th Street NW.

Mount Pleasant’s Main Street has two very unusual anchors - St. Joseph Elementary and Junior High School playing field and the North Mount Pleasant Arts Centre (NMPAC).  The latter located at the corner of 4th Street and 27th Avenue NW, is housed in the 1913 North Mount Pleasant School, one of only three original prototype “bungalow” schools built exclusively for Calgary between 1905 and 1913. For more information: North Mount Pleasant School . Today, this Centre is a multi-discipline visual arts facility with classes for all ages and skill levels, with a major focus on ceramics.  

Dean Stanton, one of Calgary's most popular muralist has  created a colourful, playful block-long mural along their 4th Street fence at the St. Joseph's school playing field, adding character and charm to the street and enhance the emerging artsy sense of place in Mount Pleasant.

Dean Stanton's Mural on 4th St NW on the fence of St. Joseph School. 

French Flavour

They don't build schools like this anymore.

This community is also unique with its two French Immersion schools – King George Elementary School and Ecole de la Rose Sauvage French Junior and Senior High School.  The King George School, built in 1912, is a fine example of Calgary’s early 20th century sandstone schools and a reminder that Mount Pleasant was annexed by the City way back in 1910 with development beginning in 1912. 

King George has arguably one of Calgary’s best schoolyards. Not only is there a modern playground and large playing field, but also a picnic area next to a berry garden and a natural space with rocks, trees and bushes for exploring and creative play.  And next to the modern playground are several huge tree trunks that make for a fun, natural climbing apparatus (for kids) and seating (for adults).

The modern playground at King George School.

These huge logs are great for climbing on, hiding in or sitting on.  Way more fun than a picnic table or a bench. 

King George School natural area.  Hidden in the shadows of the tree on the left is a fun chair carved out of wood.  

Last Word

Calgary’s inner-city communities are undergoing an amazing transformation as they convert from sleepy, early to mid-20th century single-family communities, into fun and funky 21st century ones, each with their own Main Street.   Add Mount Pleasant to your list of communities to flaneur this spring.

4th Street NW is home to the Mount Pleasant community garden.  Who needs a farmers' market when you have your own garden?

This is one of over a dozen infill construction sites near 4th Street; this one caught my attention as it was in a back alley. Mount Pleasant is obviously on the the leading edge of urban living in Calgary.