Jane Jacobs' quintessential main street is located in Vancouver?

“Where is this perfect main street in Vancouver?” you ask. No it is not Robson Street. No, it is not Alberni Street. No, it is not South Granville Street. Nor, is it not Denman Street, Commercial Drive or Lonsdale Ave.

Ironically it is actually called “Main Street” and it is from East 7th Ave to 30th Ave. Yes, 23 blocks of continuous local boutiques, restaurants, cafes, grocery stores and services.

Jane Jacob’s would have loved Vancouver’s Main Street.

This is a typical block along Vancouver’s Main Street. It has just the right amount of charm and clutter, old and new, low and highbrow to create a fun walkable street that is full of useful shops that meet the everyday needs of locals.

This is a typical block along Vancouver’s Main Street. It has just the right amount of charm and clutter, old and new, low and highbrow to create a fun walkable street that is full of useful shops that meet the everyday needs of locals.

No Gentrification

There are few national chains, mostly “mom and pop” shops, which is exactly what Jacobs thought made for a great Main Street.

There are lots of doors on the street and windows to look at. There are thrift stores and used bookstores, mixed in with funky restaurants and small grocery stores. There is even a garage that still repair cars and a car dealership.

It has all of ingredients of a good Main Street that Jacob’s wrote about in her 1960s book “The Death and Live of Great American Cities.”

It is a nice mix of shops, cafes, restaurants and services - something for everyone! There are just a few new condos and nothing over four stories.

The side streets have a diversity of single family homes that still look like the original homes, with a few new infills and some renovations, but nothing as extensive as Calgary’s inner city communities where there are new infills on every block.

FYI: We didn’t see a lot of “For Lease” signs along Main Street, which is surely a healthy sign. And Kevin Kent of Knifewear tells me that he pays higher rent for his store in Vancouver, than for his stores in Calgary (Inglewood), Ottawa (Glebe) and Edmonton (Whyte Avenue). So the success of the street isn’t lower rents that makes it so attractive to local businesses.

There are no fancy designer buildings, no special signage or ornamentation, just back-to-back pedestrian oriented shops.

There are no fancy designer buildings, no special signage or ornamentation, just back-to-back pedestrian oriented shops.

One of the few blocks with residential above the shops.

One of the few blocks with residential above the shops.

A typical side street is populated with single family homes, there are no low, mid or high rise buildings.

A typical side street is populated with single family homes, there are no low, mid or high rise buildings.

Postcards From Main Street

Every good Main Street has to have a diner.

Every good Main Street has to have a diner.

Independent cafes like The Liberty Bakery and Cafe at E 21st Street are scattered all along Main Street. In fact there are three cafe’s on this corner alone.

Independent cafes like The Liberty Bakery and Cafe at E 21st Street are scattered all along Main Street. In fact there are three cafe’s on this corner alone.

There are several used bookstores like this one. No I didn’t get lucky at this bookstore but I did the next day at Paper Hound Bookshop the next day - a signed copy of Jane Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival.”

There are several used bookstores like this one. No I didn’t get lucky at this bookstore but I did the next day at Paper Hound Bookshop the next day - a signed copy of Jane Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival.”

There are lots of good food places…

There are lots of good food places…

Main Street is home to a couple of neon signs like this one….a reminder of how the street has evolved with the times.

Main Street is home to a couple of neon signs like this one….a reminder of how the street has evolved with the times.

Their old post office has been converted into a special event space.

Their old post office has been converted into a special event space.

I counted 40+ typewriters at The Regional Assembly of Text stationary and card shop. They actually have a free night when they let people use the typewriters to create their own prose. I have added it to my calendar.

I counted 40+ typewriters at The Regional Assembly of Text stationary and card shop. They actually have a free night when they let people use the typewriters to create their own prose. I have added it to my calendar.

Yes it has the organic grocer offering Kombucha “that is not as expensive as you think,” but there are several older grocery stores that look like they have been there since the ‘60s.

Yes it has the organic grocer offering Kombucha “that is not as expensive as you think,” but there are several older grocery stores that look like they have been there since the ‘60s.

Sing Sing Beer Bar is a great spot for people watching and catching some afternoon rays…we certainly enjoyed their Happy Hour!

Sing Sing Beer Bar is a great spot for people watching and catching some afternoon rays…we certainly enjoyed their Happy Hour!

I included myself in this photo so you could appreciate how big this sock monkey aka Easter Bunny is. I love streets with quirky window displays.

I included myself in this photo so you could appreciate how big this sock monkey aka Easter Bunny is. I love streets with quirky window displays.

The Granville Island Toy Company opened a second location on Main Street in 2007.

The Granville Island Toy Company opened a second location on Main Street in 2007.

I am a sucker for shops with great blade signs.

I am a sucker for shops with great blade signs.

There are some great “window licking” photography opportunities along Main Street. A sure sign of a pedestrian friendly street.

There are some great “window licking” photography opportunities along Main Street. A sure sign of a pedestrian friendly street.

The Soap Dispensary and Kitchen Staples offers a wide array of natural products. No those are not beer taps.

The Soap Dispensary and Kitchen Staples offers a wide array of natural products. No those are not beer taps.

Even Calgary’s Kevin Kent chose Main Street for his Vancouver Knifewear store.

Even Calgary’s Kevin Kent chose Main Street for his Vancouver Knifewear store.

There are some great shop and restaurant names like this one and The Shameful Tiki Room.

There are some great shop and restaurant names like this one and The Shameful Tiki Room.

Marian Distribution Centre is a real throw back, with its selection of spiritual books and artifacts.

Marian Distribution Centre is a real throw back, with its selection of spiritual books and artifacts.

Main Street has a few antique stores, as well as a couple of thrift stores for those treasure hunters.

Main Street has a few antique stores, as well as a couple of thrift stores for those treasure hunters.

I love the simplicity of just closing off half a block of this side street to create a community gathering place. It is also a simple and effective way to prevent traffic from cutting through the neighbourhood.

I love the simplicity of just closing off half a block of this side street to create a community gathering place. It is also a simple and effective way to prevent traffic from cutting through the neighbourhood.

This is the only other evidence of modernization of the street with a small pocket park and a strange red metal sculpture passageway that seems so popular these days. There are no special pedestrian crossing, no bump outs so drivers can see people trying to cross the road and no bike lanes. Everyone just seems to use common sense to make it work.

This is the only other evidence of modernization of the street with a small pocket park and a strange red metal sculpture passageway that seems so popular these days. There are no special pedestrian crossing, no bump outs so drivers can see people trying to cross the road and no bike lanes. Everyone just seems to use common sense to make it work.

Yes there is even an Exile on Main Street in Vancouver….

Yes there is even an Exile on Main Street in Vancouver….

This photo says it all…

This photo says it all…

Last Word

You will notice there are no fancy sidewalks. No designer furniture. Yes there are some banners, but for the most part the street and buildings have been left to age gracefully. There is something authentic about the street. It is not contrived as so many urban streets are today - trying to hard to be pedestrian friendly. One could ask can good Main Streets be planned or do they have to grow organically.

It has the right combination of old, middle-aged and new buildings and diversity of shops catering mostly to locals, with some destination shops thrown in for good measure.

I think Jane Jacobs' would have loved Vancouver’s Main Street. It is hard to believe there are still streets like this in Vancouver, where everything is being gentrified.

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Calgary: 24 Main Streets Coming Soon?

Halifax: The blade sign capital of Canada

Window Licking in Portlandia



Too Much Fun: Teapots to Hippos

One of the ten commandments of an “everyday tourist” is “thou shalt always look for an independent restaurant, retailer or café.”  Recently, while driving back from Edmonton to Calgary and needing a pitstop at Alberta’s famous “gasoline alley,” we looked for a local place to eat.

And, we were justly rewarded with a “too much fun” experience.

This Boler trailer teapot was one fo the first “too much fun” teapots I spotted at Glenn’s Family Restaurant.

This Boler trailer teapot was one fo the first “too much fun” teapots I spotted at Glenn’s Family Restaurant.

This one is for Tamara….

This one is for Tamara….

Glenn’s Family Restaurant

Just to be clear, for those who don’t know halfway between Calgary and Edmonton (distance 300 km) is a cluster of gas stations, fast food places and hotels that has been called “gasoline alley” for as long as anyone can remember.  There are probably a dozen gas stations, more than a dozen fast food restaurants and probably a baker’s dozen budget motels. Amongst the mostly chains, you can find a few unique gems.

As a good “everyday tourist” we looked for an independent restaurant where we thought we might find a heartier meal and eat amongst some locals. Without knowing what we were in for, we stumbled upon Glenn’s Family Restaurant at the south end of the alley. 

Yes there is even a custom Glenn’s Family Restaurant teapot.

Yes there is even a custom Glenn’s Family Restaurant teapot.

Teapot Surprise

It was a lively place on Saturday at about 10:30 am, but we were seated quickly. I immediately noticed that true to its name, this place had the feeling of an authentic “family” restaurant. In fact, it looked like a “grandma’s house” with knickknacks everywhere. Looking more closely, I realized it was a collection of very eclectic or some might say kitschy teapots.  For me they were simply “too much fun,” so I got out the phone and started taking pictures.

Soon, the manager came over and asked “can I help you?” Explaining that I was the “everyday tourist” he quickly offered to get any of the teapots down for me to see more closely.  I took a few more pics, then sat down to enjoy my Western Skillet meal with a huge tasty biscuit with Saskatoon berry syrup for dipping on the side (take that you grit-loving Southerners). 

After the meal, I decided to take more photos and the manager came up to me and said “do you want to see the really old ones in storage?” Yes, I did! But we were on a tight schedule so I said reluctantly “next time.” 

 But not before, noticing the wall of teas, I asked if he had any Lapsang Souchong tea and he said of course. What was I thinking, they have 200+ varieties of tea – the biggest selection in Alberta they claim. I asked about Tea Traders in Calgary, my favourite place to buy lapsang souchong and he said we probably have twice the selection.

Turns out the Manager was also the owner, Glenn Simon, the son of the original owner who opened the restaurant in 1986.  I also learned, the family owns the gift shop next door that was established by his Aunt Cindy (it use to be called Cindy’s Teapot Gallery & Gift shop). And, the Donut Mill two doors down (most Albertans living along the “Edmonton-Calgary Corridor” know it as the place with the huge windmill) is operated by Glenn’s son-in-law Parry Dyck, and daughter Michelle Dyck. There is truly a family affair happening on this stretch of gasoline alley!

The walls around the restaurant are lined with shelves showcasing Glenn’s kitschy teapot collection.

The walls around the restaurant are lined with shelves showcasing Glenn’s kitschy teapot collection.

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Glenn’s Great Wall Of Tea

Glenn’s Great Wall Of Tea

Cindy’s Teapot Gallery & Gift Shop

When I heard there were more teapots in the gift shop I had to check them out. Luckily my travel companions were also willing to come along for the fun.

Wowsers! The place was packed from floor to ceiling with not only teapots, cups and saucers but everything from kitschy animal sculptures to Lug travel accessories. It was a kaleidoscope of the colours and shapes that almost hurt the eye. 

But it was fun….

This is what you see upon entering Cindy’s….

This is what you see upon entering Cindy’s….

I not sure who the target market is for this large hippo ornament.

I not sure who the target market is for this large hippo ornament.

There are more Bolers and more teapots everywhere.

There are more Bolers and more teapots everywhere.

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Lesson Learned

Always look for the independent restaurant or retailer when you are travelling. You will almost always be rewarded with a fun experience.  

If you like this blog, you will love these links:

Calgary: Tea Trader & Lapsang Souchong

Art of Vintage: A Hidden Gem

Torrington: The Kitsch Capital of Alberta