“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.
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.
Postcards From Main Street
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.