The New Westminster Quay Market is Dead. Long live River Market!

Today was the big reveal of Donald's Market at River Market. On the first day of snow at the beginning of the great winter of 2010/2011, more than half way through November, we all finally got to see what Mark and his team from River Market have been building.

The grand opening of Donald's Market drew a big crowd. Photo: Briana Tomkinson
The grand opening of Donald's Market drew a big crowd. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Today was the big reveal of Donald’s Market at River Market. Wow, can you believe that it was back in April that we finally learned who the New West River Market grocer tenant was? “Who would it be?” we all asked after months of guessing and deduction and mercelessly prodding River Market owener, Mark Shieh. But he wouldn’t say. Like Chuck Norris being interrogated by ex-soviet uranium smugglers, he vowed never to reveal the secret…. until finally, on March 31, he did.

And now, on the first day of snow at the beginning of the great winter of 2010/2011, more than half way through November, we can all see what Mark and his team from River Market have been building. I had my preconceptions: It would be small. It would be overpriced. Everything would be a little too crunchy, a little too righteous – a little too trendy for me and the gal I go with.

Donald's produce is great quality, good prices and reasonable selection. Photo: Briana Tomkinson
Donald's produce is great quality, good prices and reasonable selection. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

But I was happily surprised! Sure there is a bit more space for Seventh Generation detergents and Happy Planet and Enviro Kidz and Nature’s Path, but they are part of the mix along side specialty foods, imported brands and food products from small producers and cottage industries. This was what I found to be the most compelling about this store: it has manages to differentiate itself from other options in town while not alienating the majority of potential shoppers with hard-to-sell product choices.

Other pluses: the prices are pretty good. Produce was of great quality and reasonable selection, at prices better than most New Westminsterites are used to (especially those reliant on the IGA). The quality was so good that even the small amount of fruit that we did buy (49c bannanas BTW) tasted noticeably better than the average. Prices through the whole store were in line with Safeway or Save-On-Foods – and better in some cases, as you would expect for a Grand Opening Sale. The Store was crowded and a little hard to move in but the staff were keen and helpful and obviously proud of their opening. Lots of Island Farms and Olympic Dairy products, Saltspring and Latin Organics brand coffee, bulk foods etc.

Another local blogger, Sheila Keenan, had a similar impression:

I’m not going to lie. I had my doubts, especially given that the renovations dragged on for so long and at least one of the tenant choices seemed goofy. When I heard the Vancouver Circus School was a tenant I was skeptical. What the heck is a circus school doing in a market? After attending the grand opening today, I found out what it’s doing there: being awesome. After all, which grocery store would you rather go to: normal grocery store with just groceries or grocery store where there’s a guy doing a handstand all the way down the escalator and a girl juggling all the way up? I pick the grocery store with the circus school. (In addition to classes, they are also going to offer birthday party packages.) I actually got a little teary-eyed on the drive home, thinking to myself that this marvelous place is in New Westminster.

I will be cautious in my criticism, as I am sure Donald’s and the River Market have a lot of work left to do, but there were some points I wanted to raise:

1)It is a tightly packed space. Sure it was crowded today, but even with normal foot traffic, I cannot see how anyone in a wheelchair, scooter or large stroller could navigate without a series of blushful apologies. The arrangement of cashiers doesnt help, but it is plain that Donald’s is making the most use of the space available.

Opening-day shoppers at Donald's also got to tour the rest of the River Market space (though much of it is still under construction). Photo: Briana Tomkinson
Opening-day shoppers at Donald's also got to tour the rest of the River Market space (though much of it is still under construction). Photo: Briana Tomkinson

2) Parking. It is the rare supermarket that requires a 200-meter walk to a paid parking lot. Donald’s will cater to a core clientele of condo-dwellers from the Quay and Downtown New West buying 2-3 bags of groceries, and it will feature a bicycle delivery service. But those of us in Queens Park and the West End who appreciate the curated inventory Donald’s offers will begrudge paying a $2.50 parking bill for the honour of lugging fancy groceries to the other side of the Fraser River Discovery Centre. I suggest a golf cart with a trolley behind it, like a hayride but no, um, hay. “Aaaaawll Abooord! River Market to Riverside Park by way of parking kiosk A and B!”

3) Similarly, the way into the rest of the market from Donald’s seems restrictive; like a too-narrow hallway. Do they need that wall there? For a packed space, they should use all of the free air space they can get.

That is about it! I think Donald’s will help to disperse the malaise that has settled in the minds of locals since the Quay Market closed. The New Westminster Quay Market is Dead. Long live River Market!

For more photos of the new Donald’s Market at River Market, please see the album on our Facebook Page.

Will Tomkinson

Will Tomkinson is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

41 comments

  1. The River Market's transformation is amazing – I almost didn't recognize the space! It's bright, airy, and beautifully renovated. Mark and his team should be proud.

    I am wondering, for those of us where transit is not so much of an option (especially on weekends), if the River Market will eventually reimburse for parking if you make a purchase from one of the vendors. If my memory serves correctly, I believe that the Quay used to do this in its heyday.

    Also, it would be really nice if Donald's Market could indicate where their produce and meat comes from. For those of us looking to purchase the most local products (even over organic), it would be helpful information to have.

    I loved the look and feel of Donald's and was pleasantly surprised at their prices. I'm planning on making Donald's my regular grocery store and hope that they take friendly suggestions into consideration. 🙂

  2. I too loved the mix of items at Donald's and agree the prices seemed good. I'm wondering if that glassed-in counter near the front will be a deli and I'd also like them to add some bagels. The market could also benefit from a coffee place. (Heard a few people saying that this morning. Thank goodness for the free samples!)
    Agree on #3 too. It would be nice to have more space to move from Donald's to the rest of the market.

  3. Not a fan. I agree with your comments, and I think Donald's offers a grocery store to local residents, but it is JUST that – a grocery store…a sort of mix between IGA and Choices Market. Not quite the market I and many were looking for. What happened to connecting the customers to the food providers/growers? What about having specialty retailers…of meat? or cheese? I had high hopes that this market would be something special like Granville Is and other open markets around the world….but I guess not. =(

    1. Could be difficult. Farmer's Market management would have a tough time persuading market produce vendors to show up if there was a supermarket on the premises. Royal City Farmer's Market is tough to beat and is loved by all. New West has lots of food choices! If only we could get more variety in retail!

  4. What is taking the rest of the market so long to open? First it was supposed to be summer, then fall, now it's almost Christmas… I'd rather they kept a low profile until they have all their ducks in a row.

  5. News from Donald's and River Market – Spend more than $15 at Donald's and they'll reimburse your parking! 😀

    1. That's really wonderful news !
      Do you hear that Mat and Pat ?

      Donald's Market are ENCOURAGING drivers to come out in there GAS guzzling SUV'S and HUMMERS to purchase a PALTRY 15 dollars worth of product, and they will HAPPILY refund your parking costs !

      You Win Again !

      1. Actually Donald's offers an innovative grocery delivery service based on a recumbant bicycle platform and has located this most recent store within a 5 minuite walk of a skytrain station at the end of one of the busiest walking paths in the lower mainland.
        Cars don't work for everyone and some folks have few options

    2. You are a funny guy Rick, but not for the reasons you think you are…

      Sounds like a good idea, but I wonder how sustainable it will be. Does the lot belong to the Market, or the City?
      In my personal experience, the $1.50 parking cost isn’t a problem, (I save that much a week not buying apples at IGA). The problem is the hassle of digging out some change from the seat cushions, standing in line at the ticket kiosk in the rain, fiddling with a uncooperative credit or debt card, taking the receipt in to get it refunded, etc. It is free to park over at Columbia Square, and we don’t yet know what, if anything, it will cost to park in the Plaza 88 commercial development once it is opened. The Safeways at Royal Square and Royal City Centre and the new Save-on are free parking… this pay parking lot is a competitive disadvantage for Donalds they will need to be aware of.

      Love the bicycle-delivery idea: that should make life easier for folks along Quayside, especially if they set up an on-line catalogue.

      1. Yah, I know I'm not nearly as funny as your poop-heat-to-energy plan !

        Yes, lets see now, parking meters are to discourage cars use yes ?
        And the revenue is for the city no ?
        So the New poor 'ol Donalds market is already suffering a competitive disadvantage for setting up shop next to a pay parking lot. And as the header suggests "Quay Market is Dead", the same may soon be said about "River Market" if these disadvantages persist.

        Could it be that Donald's is already suffering a lack of traffic(foot or vehicular) to float the boat as the sole attraction at that destination given all the other options you mention ?

  6. you people complain about not having enough choice and then when they build a local store not owned by walmart, save-on, iga, etc you continue to complain.

    regardless of what goes in the river market many of you will continue to complain.

    my suggestion, move out to the country and farm your own damn food if you do not like free enterprise.

  7. To tired of whiners.
    I think everyone here is positive about the new market. Yay Market. Who are you referring to? The commenter Rick is trying to win a point on an conversation he is having on another traffic related post by jumping on this one. Some others have some suggestions. I do not see the issue.

  8. I was pleased by many of the choices and will likely shop there again. It won't be my regular grocery store since I don't live in that neighbourhood and I have alternate choices closer to me but if I am there anyway, I would shop again. The one thing I was really incredibly disappointed with was the produce. Almost all of the certified organic produce was from the United States (we have MANY organic growers in BC) and a lot of the traditional produce was pre-packaged using styrofoam trays and plastic wrap with no bulk choice – I had to pass up $1 tomatoes because of their packaging. It was funny because their plastic bags they offer at the checkout claim to be degradable, and yet, they offer a lot of produce on 100% not recyclable styrofoam trays. A lot of the apples were from "Canada" but it wasn't specified exactly where (although some did carry the BC Tree Fruit Growers logo on their stickers). The produce prices were comparable to other stores such as IGA or Choices, but it is still cheaper at the farmers market (if you know how to shop seasonally and don't expect cheap blueberries in October) and produce joints like Denny's on 6th. Perhaps I'm spoiled because of my immersion with the Farmers Market, but I was expecting something a bit different in their produce department. Also, there were a few confusing issues with their merchandising choices: their Island Farms butter was located in the stand up coolers at the back with the dairy ($5.99) but the organic fancy pants butter ($8.99) was in the centre aisle next to the margarine, so when I went looking for butter (and saw the $8.99 price tag) I walked away. I just wanted butter. It was happenstance that I spied the Island Farms butter orphaned elsewhere. All in all it was good, but has some issues that could be rectified.

  9. Rick, you are definitely not funny, nor helpful.

    For those of us that don't have reliable transit on the weekends (when I tend to do the bulk of our grocery shopping – given that I run two small businesses that provide revenue to the City of New Westminster and am crazy busy most weekdays), the reimbursement for parking was very much appreciated by me. Yes, it may only be $1.50; however, when you're opposed to paying something for "nothing" (aka a parking space), you'll do whatever you can to not have to pay it.

    Patrick – I agree that there are other (free) parking options currently available. However, lugging $100+ worth of heavy groceries by myself is not always an option. 🙂

    1. Sorry for not being funny or helpful.

      The underlying issue was about the fear of more traffic and how to get people out of their cars and onto transit, a bike, walk etc. So one side is arguing for this, yet, on the other side we have business giving back 10% on a 15 dollar purchase to drivers.

      Are the environmentalists winning when this happens ?

      Those who come by foot, bike or transit to Donalds are subsidizing those who park a car !

      Sorry for not being funny or helpful.

  10. The rest of the market needs to open and become vibrant. Yes, Donald's is the anchor tenant, but it needs other shops to help draw visitors. Until the whole market is open, many of us will have little reason to venture over to that side of the tracks. Can I at least get a hot coffee over there yet?

  11. I went on opening day – it was interesting, and very busy. Fortunately, I didn't have the kids with me – it would have been a nightmare navigating those isles with two young kids.

    I live uptown, so it's hard for that to replace Galloway's and the local green-grocers. As other stores open, it may become more attractive as a destination, but getting there is an issue. The days I would go, I'd have the kids in tow; my options:

    1) Walking, 35 minutes, there and back, with a substantial hill.
    2) Transit; $5 for two single zone fares, but have to be done in 90 minutes, and the C4 only comes every 30 minutes. The cost could easily jump to $10.
    3) Driving; 5 minutes, $1.50 in parking (plus a dollar for fuel)

    I know this post is about Donald's Market, but for people uptown who don't want to drive, it's a tough sell.

    I wrote an email to Translink, complaining of the cost of transit for these short hops – it's far more expensive than driving, and that's not how it should be.

  12. O.K. So now what? With a weekly commitment to enhancement to the quayside I often stop for lunch down at the market and do what I can to support the businesses in the market. The title of this piece was "The New West Quay Market is Dead, well it still is! It's now July and the 22nd "Fraserfest" will be happening in one week. The new market has all of 5 shops open. What a let down for the proprietors. The Vancouver Circus School has provided me with much to talk about as I have very much enjoyed the classes I have taken. As well the great wall tea company has made a tea totaled out of me. However the few businesses
    that are up and running must certainly be struggling by now with the wait for a thriving market place. I am not sure of the cause for the lack of new business openings, but after chatting with my new friends at the
    quay, I have learned that while most of the spaces have been leased the problem is the issuance of
    permits! I have no idea what city hall is doing, but it does not seem to be helping what could be a "Quay"
    asset to our city.

    1. I'm guessing that some of the hold up is also at the hands of Fraser Health Authority since so many of the "coming soon" vendors are food based. Either way, you are totally right, Douglas. It's getting really frustrating that nothing seems to be happening. I'm sure it is behind the scenes, but as a consumer, I'm getting frustrated.

    2. All good points. I think everyone wants to see more shops open at the market, and everyone is surprised it's taking so long. I know people's patience is running out, but at least we know that it's coming soon, though not as soon as everyone would like.

    3. This city plays a major role in deterring small business. Dysfunctional Economic developement butting heads with anti business socialists, engineering and building departments who show little respect for the efforts of proprietors who risk their financial future on their business. Not to mention higher than average taxes for "0" services. Businesses have no say in the running of this city.
      Support businesses in the next election if you want things to change!

  13. Good intentions don't always equal good results. Behind the scenes they are likely bleeding heavy red ink on the place and I'm a little skeptical how it will all turn out especially when the new development at the NW Station is open. Hopefully, they can get it fully occupied and get the required traffic but it has been open for a fair while now as others note…

  14. The "build it and they will come" model didn't work previously. And while the Quayside is a decent sized neighbourhood in its own right, how many of the residents will switch their grocery tendancies away from Safeway, Save On and Superstore, to Donald's? If it was planned and co ordinated better, the new Market would have received a huge boom from Fraserfest (assuming the weather co operates). And that's another factor in the Quayside market. Weather. During spring and summer when the weathers great, lots of foot traffic. When the weather sucks… not so much. And of course there are the issues over parking and accessibility to parking, costs etc. And I concur with those who live uptown and their views on why they don't shop at the Quay. A business model has to be viable, and take into account the surrounding area, and the ability to draw from those areas. No matter who owns the Quay market or what they do with it, it never seems that these are taken into account in a realistic manner.

    1. Apply the same logic to the Mayors multi million dollar Pier Park! Access, parking, value? Will the people come? Better be a lot more attempt at convenience or people will continue to utilize the many other more convenient parks. Time will tell, just like it is for the River Market. Too bad about the ongoing delay at the Market. Many hopefuls are losing interest. Maybe Donalds could offer a special "Picnic in the Park" basket in support of the Park, just in time for the pre Election ribbon cutting.

      1. Was it the Mayor alone who pushed for the Pier Park? As far as I recall there were several councillors involved as well. Not too mention the stimulus money provided. As for pre election ribbon cutting. 5 weeks from now at the Brewery district. Thrifty Foods and the bank are getting ready to open. When it comes to the so called Pier Park, I would have been happy if they destroyed the parkade, made the main part of front street (not antique alley, the main road) commercial vehicles only, and widened it to 2 lanes each way. In short, shown some initiative in actually moving traffic along in New West.

        1. Not sure I agree Dave. Mostly because neither the intersection by the rail bridge or the intersection at the Keg can accomodate a 4-lane commercial traffic road without major disruption of the exisiting traffic, or in the case of the Keg, knocking the historic building down.

          However, if we were to look at rush-hour closures of front street to all but commerical traffic, and give them favourable timing at the lights at other end, you might locally improve the access for commercial traffic without the need to lay more pavement. Of course, this will do nothing to improve the situation at the Queensborough Bridge…

        2. Dave, The park was an election goody negotiated by staff behind closed doors and to be announced by the Mayor prior to 2009 election. Voice New West made the issue public and was negatively and wrongfully accused of jeopardizing the project and the surprise announcement. How can you jeopardize purchase of a Brownfield, unless to lower the price for wasteland. I am not against the park but skeptical of success and access….. and the cost to Taxpayers. Oh well, stay tuned for the pre-election opening…. Congrats and thanks to Wesgroup for attracting anchor tenants to The Brewery District. This cannot be an election victory, but more a victory for a great developer.

  15. Have been three times to the Quay since Donalds opened found it quiet and almost dead compared to
    the old market .Nothing vibrant about it .

  16. Oh no, it can't be a failure again can it? Just like the whole Quay area in general… Keep them trains a rollin'… Wait until the garbage trains start sitting on the sidings there if the trans-load facility on Annicis goes ahead that is. The letters to the editor will just pour in.

    Maybe a few more festivals would help… Or perhaps parking is the issue. Perhaps a large elevated parking garage would help. Oh, check that, tried already. Well, maybe back-in parking would be good and eliminate one lane of traffic. It seems to work well elsewhere in town if you want to idle all day trying to get to a parking spot… New West is such a gem.

    1. Guest, many people are fed up with some of the things you mention. Be brave, stand up for what you feel and 'come out for change'. Too much of city policy is orchestrated behind closed doors and by bully and self benefitting tactics.
      Speak YOUR mind and do not hide behind anominity like the regime that currently has control, of what is by some, and desired by others, a city with such potential. November is approaching!

    2. Alternately, try to do something positive to cause change instead of just winging about how things are…or how you imagine they will be.

      Example: for everyone I hear complaining about the back-in parking on Columbia, I hear many more talking about how much more friendly Columbia Street is, how much more pleasant it is to visit, and how the new businesses popping up are making it a place worth visiting, no longer place for strictly avoiding. I applaud the current council for making that happen (and for continuing the vision with the MUCF).

      But just as important are other people trying to make positive change in the community, be it James Crosty and the Quayside folks trying to work with the railways to make their neighbourhood a little more peaceful, to The Farmers Market folks bringing a lively weekly event to the City, to John Ashdown working tirelessly to improve and promote 12th street. This City is lucky to have people willing to stick their necks out to make our City better, especially with so many people willing to sit in their basements and take anonymous swipes at them for doing it!

  17. Back when I was a student at Douglas College, I'd trek all the way down (and back up) the hill to have lunch at the Quay and often met friends there. I loved the wide variety of affordable ethnic foods, and the funky shops were fun to browse in (including a great independent book store). The hype about River Market seemed to be saying that all this would be revitalized. The home page of the web site strongly implies you can go there for lunch or shopping like in the old days. Well. . . you can go to a grocery store if you want to, but it's small (someone has already mentioned it's not wheelchair accessible). It's also only really accessible by car, with parking far away, not a green choice. This has been a real disappointment so far and I can't see it changing much in the future. Somebody ran out of money or steam.

    1. Hi Helen, Not sure when you last went, but people have been able to get crepes from Crepes des Amis, and also deli sandwiches from Emilio’s Deli for a little while now. The Crab Shop also just opened (they do crab cakes that are really good, I hear but I haven’t had a chance to get there and try it) and Cafe Gellato and Pamola Bakery apparently are weeks away from opening. The food is coming, it would seem. You mentioning going there for college lunches reminds me of my own college years and it’s funny how memory works though – in the mid 90s during my Douglas days, I remember it as a yucky building – more than one of the food court vendors were shut down by the health authorities. Of course, at that time I probably thought ramen noodles were the height of great food. 🙂

  18. I was there the week before last on a Saturday and you could have shot a cannon through the place and not hit a single person. Very, very, very sad !

  19. I would love to see all the changes etc, but I refuse to pay for parking or the hefty price of the Skytrain to get there. So – I will shop closer to home, or make a day trip to Granville Island now and then. Nothing is affordable in BC…..get me outta here!!!!!!

  20. A lot of New Westminster has high hopes for the Rivermarket. The common theme now is to "be patient". Well, even hardened supporters are running out of patience as the new market slowly reaches maturity. It seems as soon as a desirable vendor is secured, another one closes its doors. My biggest complaint is that it is not vibrant. Sure, maybe on Saturday, but the rest of the week it is not.

    Comparisons to Granville Island must be ditched. What makes that place such a draw is the element of chaos and grittiness. The owner of the Rivermarket wants a more ordered, clean, and calculated market experience….well maybe that is easier said than done?

    I think one of the issues is that Donald's has too much market share for what would traditionally be handled by smaller merchants: cheese shop, butcher, deli, produce seller, etc… By having these elements all under one banner, what is left for other merchants to sell?

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