The shops I wish we had in New West

If New West's fairy godmother offered to fast-track a few new shops, here's what I'd wish for ... (Photo: suttonhoo on Flickr)
If New West’s fairy godmother offered to fast-track a few new shops, here’s what I’d wish for … (Photo: suttonhoo on Flickr)

I have many favourite boutiques and restaurants in New West, and it seems to me there are more opening all the time. But if I had a fairy godmother who would fast-track a few new businesses for me, here is what I would wish for:

A truly great coffee shop
New West does not lack for coffee shops, but it does lack for great coffee. A JJ Bean would be awesome, or better yet, something like Raw Canvas in Yaletown, which combines great coffee with a great creative space (and turns into a wine bar / lounge at night!). I want it down on Columbia Street, which just seems like the right place for a cool cafe.

An indoor play space for kids (that is also comfortable for parents)
While restaurants and cafes with adjacent play areas are popular in other parts of the city (Kinder Cafe in Coquitlam, Rocky Mountain Flatbread on Main, Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial), there isn’t anything in New West or nearby. There are also large indoor active play areas, Koko’s Activity Centre in Port Moody, Crash Crawly’s in Coquitlam and Jungle Jac’s in Pitt Meadows, but all of these are awful for parents – and far away to boot. I would love to see a fun place where kids can play on a rainy day and parents can sit in a comfortable chair and chat with each other over good quality coffee and snacks. Bonus points if the food is healthier / more interesting than just hot dogs and pizza. I had thought that the space where Dynamic Health and Fitness is now in Royal City Centre would have made a great large indoor play space, but River Market would be another good bet for a mid-sized space. A restaurant with a small play area could be done anytime by any of our existing restaurants. Yes, it’s fewer tables, but you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve overheard local parents (mostly moms) pining for such a space in New West.

A hip greasy spoon diner
Back when Will and I lived downtown (years ago!), we’d often head out to The Templeton for a hearty, hip breakfast on Granville St. This weekend when we were considering where to go in New West for breakfast, there was nowhere that quite fit the bill: independents like the Coming Home Cafe and The Hideout Cafe were likely to be closed (it was Remembrance Day) and we were left with various chain restaurants or the greasiest of greasy spoons (cheap, but no atmosphere and mediocre food). We ended up at The Boathouse for brunch, which was good in its own way, but we spent the meal daydreaming about what a great Columbia St. eatery would be like. Re-Up/Fathom sometimes has brunch on the weekends, and it is very good. Maybe the owners could be convinced to open a breakfast joint on Columbia next?

A brew pub
Last night Twitter erupted in disappointment when word got out that Brown’s Social House would be the pub tenant at the Brewery DistrictΒ in Sapperton. New West has a nascent craft beer community, including some intrepid home-brewers, and a local brew pub was on their wish list. I’m sure Brown’s will become a popular destination for a certain type of night out, but for now Hops remains the beer geek’s pub of choice in New West. But if there are any brew pub entrepreneurs out there reading this: Sapperton wants YOU.

A gift shop for men
We’ve got Brick and Mortar Living, Lofty Living, Cadeaux and Sonse Design (among others) where you can find a lovely little something for a woman, but men are much harder to shop for. I’d love to see someone open a Brick and Mortar-style boutique with little things for men to covet and women to gift. Ideally it would tap into the Art of Manliness movement – most men’s gift stores I’ve seen are full of unimaginative, uninspired garbage. In my opinion, this sort of store would do well on Columbia St., to tap into the wedding market and give brides something really nice to buy for their husbands, or grooms to select for their groomsmen.

An independent toy store
Yes, we had one of those (two if you count the oddly named & situated Kids Kloset), but since Pedagogy Toys closed, there’s been nowhere to go locally to buy gifts for kids. I love shopping at toy stores, and I would love to see someone give an independent toy store another go. I think a toy store would do well uptown. There are lots of parents and grandparents out and about during the day, heading to Moody Park and the Library, and I could see a lot of walk-by traffic from folks in the area to do banking, grocery shopping or other errands. A toy store in the vein of the Village Toy Shop in Port Moody would be perfect.

A neighbourhood coffee shop on 12th St
Poor, poor 12th St. It has struggled for so long and is in quite the slump right now. The hill really limits how far people will walk the street, especially without a chain of awesomeness to draw you up, one store at a time. Amber’s Choice is a nice cafe at the top of the hill, but if you’re around 6th Ave or below, it’s a long way to hike for a coffee and a muffin. John Ashdown’s old cafe, Village Coffee Lounge, was in a perfect spot for neighbourhood customers, and as a resident of the West End I certainly feel its absence. I’d love to see more tightly clustered retail on 12th St., particularly around the nexus of 12th St and 6th Ave, anchored by a great community cafe.

A large mixed-use development at 22nd St. SkyTrain
Here’s the biggest item on my wish list. I want to see 22nd St. SkyTrain station built up. Last year, three of the five or six houses immediately next to the SkyTrain were up for sale at the same time, and I was holding my breath hoping a developer would buy them – alas, not how that story turned out. Still, I think a smaller-scale Plaza 88 ‘Shops at New West Station’-type development would be great there. The proximity to downtown on the SkyTrain is awesome from that station, just 25 minutes to Waterfront and less than 20 to the edge of downtown. The price per square foot vs. travel time to downtown work would be ideal for many folks. Plus, it would provide some walkable and useful businesses for the existing local residents in the area – and potentially lift the fortunes of some of the 20th St businesses as well (which suffer from the same issues as 12th St).

There’s more of course. I’d love to see more wearable street fashion, not just bridal, and more of a visible arts presence. I miss having an art supply store on the street (years ago Full Spectrum Art Supply bowed to the bridal market and turned into Paper Poet, a wedding invitation & papercraft store), and I often wish for an independent bookstore of the type I enjoy in La Conner, WA (The Next Chapter, check it out if you are ever in the area. Fireplace, comfy chairs, decent coffee and an expertly curated selection of titles).

But that’s me. What would you like to see?

32 Replies to “The shops I wish we had in New West”

  1. These are all good, if not great suggestions!
    The list would no doubt grow, depending who you ask. I second another independent toy store, coffee house, brew pub, greasy spoon. Seems like everything is either a franchise, big or small….and Brown's is no different. Either the cost of starting up a business or the clout of larger merchants makes it hard for start-ups. However, we as a community suffer with a homogenous shopping experience that could be found in any strip-mall from, Vancouver to Abbotsford.

    1. Matt,
      One of the cost of opening a small business is taxes which average $1000 per month on an average size business. (1000 sq feet).
      Add that to rent and you are already sucking the hind one.

  2. A sporting goods store. I know the there is one in the mall, but selection is limited and its mostly branded t shirts rather than equipment. A lingerie store that you don't have to get buzzed into. A craft store that isn't niche and isn't Michaels. A shoe store that sells high quality fashionable shoes. Had I the money, I would have wanted to approach Copp's about reinventing them. The quality is there, but the fashion and selection is not.

    1. Are you referring to the lingerie store that was on 6th street (Uptown; Quay Celebrity Lingerie and Accessories)? I've never been, but if this is the store that you needed to buzz into, I can understand why; the owner survived a violent attack (attempted murder) in the back of her store in 2004:

      1. I read that article (and was aware of it before I made my comment as I had asked her when I shopped there last). I feel terrible for her and am sad people would do that to anyone. I still don't think that a buzzer system is customer friendly, though. It makes me feel like a criminal and it also makes me feel as though I am judged based on my appearance – non threatening looking people perpetrate crime too. There are other ways to protect yourself, I think – cameras, making friends with retail neighbours, ensuring the windows to your store are transparent and not all blocked up with posters and displays, silent alarm systems, etc.

  3. Briana, I concur- your list hits the nail on the head! I sometimes make the trek to Little Nest on Charles Stree ( just off Commercial Drive) for a wholesome lunch, kids play, and a welcoming atmosphere. C'mon New West- let's do it here, too!

    What I really, REALLY wish New West had is an Italian deli and cafe/bakery. The Italian shops on Hastings street come to mind…

    I live in the Victoria Hill neighborhood and there is a vacant retail space beside the Victoria Sushi restuarant, which is pretty popular. I think an adult-oriented cafe would compliment this location as the population of Victoria hill continues to grow and the majority appears to be childless singles and couples.There is a large patio which overlooks the Fraser and this would be ideal in the summer.

  4. A nice clothing store that isn't formalwear or prom dresses. Something along the lines of boutiques you might find on Main Street. Definitely agree about a nice diner-style joint, like Acme Cafe or Red Wagon. And will someone pleeeasse open a coffee shop or something, anything, in the empty-for-6-years space next to Victoria Sushi over here? Seriously, it's ridiculous.

  5. I'd like a squash court (or three). There were courts at Blue Mountain before they got turned into condos, I played downtown till my office moved too far away. I play at Cameron, but it's 15-20 minutes of driving each. If they re-develop Canada Games, I'll ask about squash courts. Not a shop, but I am going to stretch the rules a bit.

    I brew my own beer, and I have to drive into Vancouver to get stuff. You don't have to stock much for a successful home-brew shop.

    A brew-pub would be good, but just a pub that had something on tap other than Granville Island. Over the last two weeks, I've visited Rivers Reach, The Terminal, and Heritage Bar and Grill, and the best local beer to be found was Granville Island. No Central City, no Phillips, no Tree Brewing, no Howe Sound, no Driftwood (and their awesome Fat Tug, a 7% beauty that takes me straight to Hangoverville the next day). I'll have one Granville Island, but I need a more interesting choice to have a second beer. I was at the Biltmore not long ago, and their on-tap selection was amazing.

      1. TCG,

        Spagnols (and most wine places) sell beer kits, and they're cheap, but not that great.

        Unlike wine, a homebrewer can make beer that is as good as a microbrewery. I buy dry hops, wet hops, pelleted hops, whole malted grains that I crush myself, and I can get the same yeast that everyone else uses. You can even keg your beer and carbonate with a CO2 tank.

        Dan's Homebrew is the only place in Vancouver, and one of only two that I know of in BC (the other is Hop Dawgs, in Vernon).

        1. Good news! All that is supposed to change in January 2013 as Barley's Homebrewing Supplies is slated to open in New Westminster. Can't wait!

  6. Adding on to my comment ,as the website kept timing out – maybe it's too long….

    I would also like a good breakfast place. I don't like greasy spoons, but something like Rebar in Victoria would be pretty cool. I miss the Orange Room (though it was maybe a bit fancier than I would have liked), and I can't eat at the Awful House. I like Re-Up and Wild Rice, but they aren't really breakfast places.

    A cool coffee shop would be nice. Waves looks fancy (I've been in there once, escaping the cold from the Santa Parade), but it was really busy and I didn't have time to order. JJ Bean coffee is hard to beat.

    A gardening shop, and not like Art Knapps – more like West Coast Seeds – their storefront is way out in Steveston. Mail order isn't much fun.

    1. There is a gardening shop within River Market. KJM Urban Gardens carries a selection of seeds and some nice gifts for gardeners, especially those growing in small spaces (patios, etc). The selection of plants is small but they do have some interesting ones!

      1. Thanks for the tip – I'll check it out. I like West Coast because they stock different varieties of plants. Early tomatoes, late tomatoes, kale that will survive our wet winters, over-winter produce, etc.

  7. Yes, to a better breakfast! We are always heading into Vancouver for breakfast and brunch on the weekend. Cafe Medina, The Reef, Theresa's (before it closed), Banditas. None greasy spoons (not my preference), but all have amazing brunch menu's. Most of the pubs in town have a greasy breakfast, so that's not lacking.

    Take five serves pretty great coffee and is worth heading to, but something like a JJ or the new 49th parallel coffee roasters would be AMAZING!

  8. But, wait. What about de Dutch!? I love the de Dutch at Columbia Square for breakfast/brunch. It's a chain, yes, and a bit pricey, but the food is delicious, it's kid-friendly and the service is fantastic.

    I have to completely agree about the indoor play space, though. The local merchants at River Market and Royal City Centre are missing out on a lot of my business since I will frequently go all the way to Brentwood Mall to do my shopping due entirely to the fantastic play area there. Also, If a Koko's-type space were to open up in New West where I could relax while the kids played, I would be there every weekend.

    One thing I would add: a proper bakery. One where they make all of the treats/baked goods on site. One where you could go on a coffee date to enjoy a latte with a real-ingredients, made-today cupcake. Where you could custom-order a cake and pick up still-warm bread. There are some that places that come close (Cloud Nine and Sherlock's, for example) but none of the ones I know quite measure up to Breka on Fraser Street or Max's Deli on Oak Street, or even a Whole Foods bakery, in the variety of goodies they offer.

    1. I think my favourite local bakery is Pamola (within River Market). Their breads and baked goods are a real treat. My favourite is their sugar donut. It is ambrosial, nothing like the spongy, greasy Tim Hortons variety. Their coffee is not so great, but there is espresso next door at Tre Galli.

      1. It's been on my list to try – I love the Market, but we try not to drive, and it's an expensive way to travel via Transit (except on Sunday, with a monthly pass).

        I volunteer at the Farmers Market – maybe I'll treat myself to something the next Saturday morning I'm there.

  9. Good topic Briana! What is truly needed in New West is all of the above but more importantly, 1. a business friendly city council who does not use small business to finance everything from social subsidies, Daycare through parking meter revenues, and a general distaste by staff to work with businesses in creating easy access. 2, When a business opens they need the support of the paying public. Most business people are very open to public opinion of their facility, if not what is expected most will adapt to the needs of the community. So people should speak out in a constructive way. Not simply sit back and wait until the business fails or toddle off to Burnaby or Vancouver. We at One Source Productions are preparing our 3rd edition of the "New Wester" a business and community guide to New West. This edition will contain a "Retail Diet" for 12th Street. in answer to the recent comments from editorials in the NewsLeader. 20,000 copies are circulated quarterly so watch for January edition.

    1. I think there's an appetite to shop locally among New Westminster folk – and more so now than in the past. People I speak to vastly prefer to choose local merchants. The problem comes with the weaknesses of small stores: irregular hours, inconsistent stock, or just missing the mark when it comes to anticipating customer wants and needs. Most small business owners try to do it all, and most people just can't do it "all" well. As a result you end up with tastemakers with great stock, but weak marketing, or restauranteurs who do community well but fail to keep up with changing customer expectations for decor and menus, and so on. Unfortunately, some local businesses just don't have the financial cushion to stick around and learn from their mistakes.

      There have been a lot of promising new businesses that have folded just as they have started to get the hang of it. Locals want to support New West businesses, but we can't afford to buy a ton of stuff we don't need, we don't want to eat in restaurants that are uncomfortable or serve bad food, if a store or restaurant isn't open when we're looking to eat there we can't go there, and if a local store doesn't carry what we're shopping for we have to turn elsewhere. Local merchants need to do more to up their game. Competition for customers is only getting more fierce, and business owners can't afford to ignore what customers want and need.

      1. I have a lot of sympathy for small business owners – it's a tough road, and it must be daunting to do something no one else is doing; the lure of opening yet another dollar store (YADS) must be hard to resist.

        Small business seem like a good way to lose a lot of money.

  10. Ya, I don't know. Having a Plaza 88 (or whatever it's called now) at 22nd Street SkyTrain Station seems a long way off. The traffic around there is awful during rush hour. No business will set roots there if drivers can't get to it.

  11. Good news for New Westminster on the shops front: La Grotta Del Fromaggio deli has opened in Donald's at River Market. I've been going to their shop on Com'l Drive for years. Excellent old world Italian deli. If you're a cheese hound you'll want to check it out.

  12. Really enjoyed this Briana, and concur with most if not all.
    In Uptown there's a new restaurant planned for the Queen's Park West building that Uptown Property Group is building (5th Street and 6th Avenue). Includes an about-40 seat patio facing 5th Street. And I'm told the restaurant is part of a chain, but very nice. My guess is of the Joey's, Cactus, Earls variety. I'm told the Mr. Mikes is going elsewhere (my guess: Plaza 88).
    Home décor shops in NW rock these days. I just need toys, a re-vamped Thirsty Duck and yes, more greasy-spoon-with-a-twist breakfast spots. To start.

  13. Love all the ideas here! I'd like a raw food cafe (Aaron Ash of Gorilla Food is opening a second location, but not this far east) OR for Karmavore to keep stepping up their game as they have been and expand their offerings to include a full juice/smoothie bar. Maybe the juice/smoothie truck that joined the Farmers' Market this year would consider opening at the River Market?

  14. Great story Briana, I concur with everything that has been said and also add the following.
    1. truly great coffee shop(s)- 49th parallel, jj bean, artigianos, trees organic teahouse a la some of the ones around Gastown – great coffee, great architecture, truly great interior design
    2.deli shop and bakery – enough safeways but more of the Commercial Street style shops or even places like Choices, Whole Foods or Inno Bakery.
    3. Independent art supplies, crafts and hobby store. And we don't mean Michaels.
    4. Hardware store. The little new Rona store is very welcome, but more locations throughout would be great. I really hate to have to cross the bridge into Queensborough anytime I need sand paper or paint.
    5. Farmers Market open on the WEEKEND not just Thursday afternoon.
    6. More / better antique stores – Bring back a revamped Antique Alley.
    7. More main stream anchor tenants for some of the larger scale commercial spaces to keep them afloat or bring more commercial activity – i.e like Chapters or Home Sense at 6th and 6th, Two-storey Winners or Homesense or Canadia Tire on Columbia like they have on Robson Street, smaller version of King Edward Plaza somewhere along 22nd Street

    1. Just a note about the farmers market, Agnes – they are open on Thursday afternoons because if they were open on Saturdays or Sundays, they'd be competing with Vancouver and Coquitlam not only for shoppers, but also for vendors and the selection wouldn't be as good. Many of the vendors who come to New West market do so because it is a day where there isn't another, more lucrative or busier market to go to so New West benefits from that. I do think they should be open till 8 though – and if you think so you should make sure you tell the board of directors! (email is πŸ™‚

      1. Thanks Jen, thats exactly the point I'm making. I go to Vancouver and spend my valuable New West dollars there because the New West is open at a time that makes no sense. I can walk to New West but by the time I get home from work I have less than 15 min. left so what's the point? I am sure I am not the only one. I think if the Market is good, and I am sure it is, it will be no competition at all! The convenience and proximity will win out, they always do! I am sure I am not the only one who does their shopping on a Saturday.

        1. I think you misunderstood my point. The market association itself isn't in competition with Vancouver Farmers Markets – I see it more as fitting into a regional local farmers market system. There is a "circuit" of vendors where the same vendors participate at markets on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sundays and rotate around. Our region is small enough that they can do that. So, if there are two markets on Saturday, one in a city with a population of 65,000 and one in a city with a population of 600,000 the vendor is likely to choose the larger one – more exposure and higher attendance and theoretically, higher sales. So, by scheduling the New West market on a day when the other choice is essentially only Poco (approximate population is 55,000), then New West is likely to attract better, higher quality vendors. You are absolutely right that you aren't the only one who shops Saturdays, but there is a sizeable demographic in New West that can and does make it to the farmers market on a Thursday (seniors, families, and many working people). Do I think the farmers market should be open later in the evening to accommodate people who work later or work downtown and have to commute? Definitely. But to move it to a Saturday would kill the market entirely because you'd get left with vendors who weren't selected to Vancouver and perhaps don't have the high quality product offerings. Plus, people would just go to Vancouver to get the selection they want anyway since it is so close by train, and eventually, New West would lose shoppers, then vendors and face an uncertain future. The New West market association is a non profit society so they don't pay taxes to the City, they employ only a single person. Their benefit to the City is that they act as a community gathering place, act as a conduit for fresh, locally grown food, and support vendors themselves. Only a very small fraction of the vendors are New Westminster based businesses (the highest it was when I was managing was 3 out of 40 – it might be different now). The fact that you shop at Vancouver Farmers Markets means you are supporting the same vendors that sell at New West on Thursday, so you are in essence, supporting them without attending! πŸ™‚ Win-win. πŸ™‚ I don't think convenience and proximity would win for me if the tradeoff was crappy selection and lower quality especially if a quick trip by Skytrain could take me to something better on the same day.

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