Frances Bula header image 2

What will happen to Buy-Low — our little slice of ungentrified Vancouver — if the Kingsgate Mall gets redeveloped?

Q. What happens to my beloved Buy-Low if/when Beedie Developments goes ahead with their plan to redevelop Kingsgate Mall, per the recent article in the G&M

A. Well, Chris (I know it’s you because you are the first person to have signed your name to a City Plumber question in almost a year now. The rest of you — I do not know who you are. There is nothing magic that tells me. What is with that?) Where was I now? Oh, right, Chris. And Buy-Low.

Yes, we love Buy-Low here at City Plumber. When we first moved into the neighbourhood, we were snobs about Buy-Low. We felt that going there reminded us of the couple of years that we got welfare money to help with childcare, in our early days when journalism pay was below the poverty line, and we had to think carefully about whether we could afford a $3 bottle of bubble bath. But now, we love Buy-Low. They have improved their product offerings, so that one can get an organic chicken every so often, along with the 20-pound pack of hamburger meat. Young hipster couples shop there and they are so beautiful, those young people. And paying $100 for a small bag of groceries at Whole Foods makes Buy-Low look even more alluring.

Plus, all of Kingsgate Mall calls to me in a peculiar way. As Vancouver gets more and more shiny towers, I long for the old, dumpy Vancouver. Bring back the bedraggled CBC building that used to exist in some kind of sagging yellow building on Georgia somewhere around Bute. Bring back the Normandie on Granville and Bert’s on Main. Bring back the one-storey bungalows that are being torn down to make way for another hideous mauve cake-palace.Bring back the Chinese restaurants where the waitresses could hardly bring themselves to take your wretched order. Bring back the round-cornered yellow buses. The yellow buses with their orderly seats facing forward. Hardly any room to stand up. Sniffle.

So I have come to appreciate the homey feel of all of the Kingsgate mall, where you can still buy a pair of glitter-covered platform shoes with six-inch heels. And plastic flowers. And terrible, awful, hideous Canadian-made furniture. And a real bad-for-you hot dog, filled with nitrates, not one of those German things handcrafted by some retired investment banker. And the guys drinking outside on the sidewalk, out of paper bags (how delightfully quaint). As a friend of mine who moved into the neighbourhood once said, “It’s like a little piece of Trail right in the heart of Vancouver.”

All of that has almost made me come to terms with the fact that, to bring the Kingsgate mall into existence, the always far-seeing and aesthetically sensitive Vancouver School Board ripped down the city’s first public school, Mount Pleasant, on the 100th anniversary of its construction in 1872, in order to build the architectural magnificence we now know as Kingsgate Mall, along with a replacement school nearby built out of the same cinder blocks used for minimum-security prisons. Thank you, thank you, thank you, VSB. I keep a picture of the old Mount Pleasant by my computer, so I can be grateful on a regular basis for having removed this lovely piece of history from the map.

But, rest assured Chris (and if you haven’t guessed by now that I am drinking beer, I am, Coal Harbour Brewing Company, a freebie I got at a party the other night  and it’s also almost midnight), Buy-Low will be with us for a few more years.

I understand that the VSB hasn’t even had a call yet from Ryan Beedie (who holds the 99-year lease on the property, due to expire in about another 60 years). I understand Mr. Beedie currently has many other fish on the barbecue, development-wise. I understand that he got asked about this topic during an interview — a natural, since everyone is wondering what is going to happen with that corner, given that the Rize tower is going to be built across the street — and so he answered, but that doesn’t really mean anything. I understand no one in the city’s development department or other developers working nearby have heard boo about any plans.

You are safe for several years to come. You heard it from me. It must be true.



  • Joe Just Joe

    With only 60yrs left I don’t think we’ll see much development at all. It would sell at a significant discount if built as market housing. As rentals it could work but the numbers would be tight. I suspect if we were to see anything it would be in several years and probably only after extending the land lease.

  • Joe Just Joe

    The mall hasn’t been the same with out Fields and their $20 Lobo sneakers for the poor families that couldn’t afford name brand shoes. 😉

  • Ben

    Joe Just, 60 years is an eternity in the world of finance and real estate. With the magic of discounted cash flow, you’ll milk at least 95% of the value out of an investment in 60 years. That’s a pretty small discount when you consider the value of Buy-Low versus a little clump of glass condo towers at a train stop.

  • Joe Just Joe

    There is no train stop though and won’t be for probably a decade. By the time anything is built you’d be looking at closer to 50yrs left on the leasehold. Find a property with 50yrs left on a leasehold then compare it to an equivalent property that isn’t leasehold and tell me it’ll command at least 95% of the value. Shave almost another 10points off and I could agree.

  • Richard

    Look what happens when people won’t let single family housing be redevelop and instead say redevelop along arterials only. Oops, the shops, cafes and bowling alleys that actually gave the community the character they want to protect disappear. Maybe time for a rethink.

  • Every neighbourhood needs a ‘HellsGate’ mall! Where else can you get all your staples and also have your then-toddler gaze up in wonder at a kindly 6 foot plus transvestite, her little brain trying to compute why she walks like a woman but talks like a man. (true story). Now we just need some car sharing parking spaces in the top parking lot for even more convenience.

    thx Frances!

  • Andrew Browne

    It would have to occur alongside a lease extension. Residential real estate with only 60 yr left on the lease doesn’t move unless sold at a very high discount.

  • Bill Lee

    Of course Buy-Low is a Jim Pattison food empire, and that gives some people pause.

    But what is there within walking distance for the weekly shopping for 35 portions (5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day)?
    So few green grocers in the neighbourhood, and some go over to the old tram barns on Main and 14th and the IGA there.
    Kim’s Mart further along Broadway is OK, and I saw some Chinese asking in English what some things were.
    The Viet place across the street burned down last month.
    Kea groceries at 10th and Main, is hanging on
    The IGA is really a Marketplace IGA 2949 Main Street, (of London Drugs Louie family) and upscaling to yuppies of the area. About half a kilometre (10 minute walk?) away.
    I save 20% shopping elsewhere. Only 12 minutes by bike.

    Looking at the census maps and avoiding the Cambie edge, there are about 19000 people in Census Tracts 9330050.03 9330038.00 9330049.01 in 10000 dwellings on the east side of Main.
    Are they all buying meat trays for singles and 5 apples at a time?

    For more on transvestite shoe stores see reporter Claudia Kwan’s blog story on the Model Express store on (West) Hastings
    via Kwan’s Polymediathlete blog

  • Guest

    There’s the No Frills on Broadway east of Yukon. That’s more convenient for those that live west of Main, but it’s got great prices (part of the Loblaws/Weston empire).

  • Dan Cooper

    I love Kingsgate because it has stores and service providers that actually sell things I need/want/use. And it’s right there. Buy Low for its part has great baked goods at a reasonable price, if not a wide variety…and is one of the few places that sell the particular food my cat is used to. Need I continue? May both the mall and grocery live for many more decades!

  • David

    The CBC building. To an island kid visiting the big city, this building with the CBC butterfly sign was… um.. all I recall is the butterfly.

    1200 Bute ….a former auto dealership.



  • David
  • Frances Bula

    @David. That is the one! Yes, I have it from the days when you had to go down to the archives and order a print. How cool you can get it online.

  • Frances Bula

    @David. This is so great. You are making me homesick

  • Raingurl

    Frances, you (and I) want to bring all these things back………BRING BACK WOODWARD’S! ($1.49 days, Woodward’s! $1.49 day, Tuesday!) Hehe. I shop there now but it’s just not the same. Sometimes I tell people I’m going to Woodward’s for groceries. They’re all confused but I don’t back down. It will never be Nester’s and London Drugs…………It’s Woodward’s and I’m still whistling……….

  • Bill Lee

    #12 and #13 on the 1972 picture of the old (second) Mount Pleasant school.

    I remember the dust of the playing field mixed with the Broadway car exhaust. Not that I went to school there, but I traversed the not-elysian grounds in the old days

    From the Walter Frost Fonds;rad
    And there are a lot of stuff, he was a busy man “Results 1 to 50 of 13368 ”

    Archival description area
    Name of creator: Frost, Walter E. (1898-1988)
    Biographical history
    Walter E. Frost was born in Vancouver in 1898. After World War I he bought a Kodak roll film camera and began to photograph his city and the ships and trains that carry its life-blood. He was an avid amateur photographer interested in ships, trains, … »
    Custodial history: Photographs transferred from Frost’s care directly to the Archives.
    Scope and content: The fonds consists of family photographs and Frost’s photographs of Vancouver city scenes; steam and diesel locomotives and other railway scenes; and ships in Vancouver harbours and docked at various Vancouver piers and wharves.

    Immediate source of acquisition: Donated to the Archives by Walter Frost in 1985

  • Bill Lee

    Also pictures from 1893 and 1903 of the earlier school

    Mount Pleasant and schools; Filter/Limit by Media type:Image

  • David

    @Raingurl, Even after 19 years we know what day of the week Dollar-FortyNine day is. Jingles, burned into memory so deeply that we can’t forget their message even though they’re no longer relevent.

    What corner was Honest Nat’s Department Store on? What kind of guy was Dick Iriwn?

    And the dancing cows, I can still see the Eagle Ford cartoon dancing cows “East Hastings… Burnaby”

    The Eagle Ford sign may yet return

    Jingle search, no Eagle Ford. Just Musgrove Ford.

    Not too hard to find old radio station jingles, frequency changeovers (touch that dial, just this once) and talk shows clips with hosts like Ed Murphy, Barrie Clark, Chuck Cook, Judy Lamarsh (Mum didn’t like her), and the legendary Pat Burns. I called him a few times, “BURNS HOT LINE GO AHEAD”. (“Gulp”)…

    During a break Pat once asked, “Anyone got a [effing] match”? into a live microphone… Hard to believe today, he was *smoking*, *indoors*.

    Sorry I must be wandering off topic (whatever it was)… Time for Pete’s Place, so goodnight guys, and goodnight dolls.

  • Bill Lee

    Recent involvement with Kingsgate
    mall by local person, a Madame Frances Bula
    and her Twitter feed trail

    Frances Bula ‏@fabulavancouver

    Also felt lucky to get stitched up in only two hours, 11 ahead of me. They said VGH line-up was at 92 at 6:30 p.m. Yikes.
    12h Frances Bula Frances Bula ‏@fabulavancouver

    Also had a great time in Mount St. Joseph ER, catching up with some old friends and a sister of a fellow reporter, in for various things.
    13h Frances Bula Frances Bula ‏@fabulavancouver

    Oh, exhibit A
    View photo
    13h Frances Bula Frances Bula ‏@fabulavancouver

    Why I will not be tweeting so much next few days on BB after tripping, then landing on broken wine bottle. Kingsgate mall pple were great

  • Kenji

    “The end of the runaround, at Downtown Toyota…Bathrooms Beautiful…14, CFUN! Vancouver…”

    where was I?

    Oh yes, about to pontificate about Hellgate Mall. My mall.

    We are at BuyLow often enough to have been seriously thrilled when they upgraded their deli section. My son and I get haircuts there. We mourned the loss of the Kolachy outlet. I spend quite a bit of money at Lely’s and I wonder how it could possibly survive a rent increase. Not well, I am guessing.

    But if this place was to be replaced or upgraded, I can’t say it would be a huge loss. Tedious, functional architecture is not something that says ‘must preserve’ to me and if it was, I could satisfy my need for awkward 70s cheapo aesthetics by looking at the Teamsters building nearby.

    But more than that, the point I would make is that this place is on its last legs whether or not it was ever attractive. The area is getting more populated, so there will be demand for groceries. The UBC skytrain extension is coming sooner or later, and it just makes sense that a station would pop up in the area. Why not at HellGate?

  • Raingurl

    @ 18 – David // Nov 28, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Thanks for the chuckles and the pic and the music. Sometimes it’s easy to get off topic around Frances’ blog……….looks like she fell on a wine bottle at Kingsgate Mall……Hope she’s doing better. (Ps, I’m still whistling $1.49 Day) hehe