The Long, Slow and Disappointing Revival of Granville Street

Granville Street at nightRebecca points to some minor redesigns of one of Vancouver’s major downtown streets, and she got me thinking about how it’s changed.

For some reason, my Dad and I have been paying attention to Granville Street for at least twenty years. I grew up across the inlet in West Vancouver. Before I could drive, my mental model of ‘downtown’ was essentially a three block strip of Granville Street featuring two movie theaters, access to Pacific Center, Burger King and Golden Age Collectibles.

In those days, Granville Street was a veritable den of iniquity. There were adult cinemas, lots more sex shops and plenty of prostitutes patrolling the streets at night. It was, in the eyes of most Vancouverites, kind of a Bad Place.

The street has experienced a slow transformation over the past twenty years. The ladies of the night have moved on, the adult theatres have closed, and the sex shops have thinned out (and become, I think, more brightly lit). At the same time, the number of night clubs has really expanded. This has resulted in more people on the streets at night, which is a good thing.

Complete Ordinary Elements

More conventional forms of commerce are slowly extending south, pushing out many of the dodgier pawn shops and massage parlors. In an an otherwise successful revival, this has been my only disappointment. The new stores are characterless franchises–Sleep Country, FutureShop, Cafe Crepe, Pita Pocket (or some such pita-slinging joint), Starbucks and so forth. It’s a pity that the alternative to undesirable elements is completely ordinary ones.

Why can’t Granville become more like Toronto’s Queen Street West (at least the bits I walked around)? They seemed to have a happy mix of independently-owned stores and a smattering of chains, plus a bunch of cool restaurants and diners.

Main Street better watch out. Once the commodification of Granville Street is complete, you can guess which thoroughfare is next.

3 comments

  1. Just a guess here, but one of the reasons could be because real estate along Queen St. in TO isn’t nearly as expensive as it is on Granville – hence, only the big giant stores can afford it.

  2. The cyclical nature pertaining to neighbourhood improvements or rejuvenation is indeed a strange one. Towards the end of my 7-year stay in Toronto and after having spent much time in the music bars along Queen West, folks were becoming more disillusioned by similar elements of which you speak, and they were speaking more fondly of places like Bloor West (west of Spadina) or St. Clair West (as examples). I suppose it could all very well be a selection effect by way of what’s considered up or down by the constantly-evolving hipster set. In any case, IMO, my favourite, if not quieter, parts of Granville in downtown Vancouver used to be between Dunsmuir and West Cordova.

  3. Well, I know for sure that one problem is that rent along that stretch of Granville south of Robson got a huge rent increase; or at least on the east side (Golden Age, etc.). There were some cool shops that were closed down due to a doubling (or more) of rent.

    Generally all this means that if you want to go to cool, independent stores, you have to go outside of the downtown core. It’s sort of too bad, as I work at Granville and Robson, and the 2 closest coffee shops are both Starbucks, and most of the restaurants are chains too.

    I heard from a friend that those Starbucks don’t actually make a profit, due to the high rent (which is sad, since they are always quite busy), and that they’re only there for the marketing of the brand. This just seems wrong, somehow.

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