Frances Bula header image 2

Cambie: The new Highway 1 + mall village + bait/switch winner

May 4th, 2009 · 40 Comments

In a desperate search for non-ammonia-treated strawberries on the weekend, I stopped in at the new Whole Foods on Cambie at Eighth and discovered a major party going on. Well, that’s what it looked like, with people jamming into the store like it was the night before Christmas dinner. Some major organic-vegetable-buying going on there.

I would like to state for the record that I am thrilled Whole Foods (or as my American friends like to call it, Whole Paycheck) has opened in my neighbourhood so that I can expand my yuppie grocery habits to yet another venue, conveniently close to my house. Not even the Money Sense story I read saying that it likely costs me $100 more per week to shop at upscale grocery stores is likely to break me of this.

But, while admiring the boundless supplies of niche food products, I had to wonder yet again what the heck happened to city planning on this part of Cambie. It seemed like it was a nothing street just a few years ago — I’d appreciate it if someone could help me remember what actually existed between Broadway and the bridge way back in that prior millennium — and then it suddenly sprouted a collection of big-urban-box stores in just a couple of blocks: a Best Buy, a Canadian Tire, a Winners, a Home Depot, a Save-On. It was like taking the contents of an entire suburban mall, say the new Park Royal village, and stuffing them into a condo. Whole Foods is just the latest addition.

As much as I like these stores and find them convenient, they make for the strangest little strip of urban geography. You have Cambie Street, now a beautiful six paved and clear lanes, looking like some kind of racecar driver’s dream. When you turn onto the street from Broadway, it stretches out in front of you, an invitation to hit 150 k on all that empty space just before soaring off the hump of the bridge into space.

Yet on either side of this speedway are stores that are destined to attract thousands of customers a week. Which means that this little chunk of town is now infested with a constant patrolling circle of cars searching for a parking place in preference to having to descend into a subterranean parking dungeon. It will be interesting to see how the combination of drivers racing to hit the clubs downtown or to get home to south Surrey mesh with those drivers inching along, hunting carefully for a parking spot on a side street. Not to mention how all the pedestrians now flocking to the sidewalks will cope with both.

And I still can’t understand how Vancouver, the city that loves to spend months on consultative neighbourhood-visioning processes, allowed this strange little area to happen.

But I can’t blame them for the other unhappy turn of events on Cambie recently, the closure of the Capers grocery store at 16th. The store, open only a couple of years, was turning into a much-loved spot for the neighbourhood — a place that was easy to walk to for people nearby, convenient to park around, and a part of the Cambie Village strip there. That village, unlike the mall-village complex lower down, feels more civilized. It’s got many small shops, parking along the street that reduces the number of driving lanes, and an aura that invites drivers to slow down.

However, since Capers in now part of the Whole Foods empire, it was closed as the new bigger box opened down the street. One woman I know who lives nearby said she actually felt like crying when it closed. Another man, who happens to be a city planner, didn’t admit to tears but sounded profoundly glum about the closure. Apparently it’s now going to become a Shopper’s drugstore — not exactly the same kind of community gathering place. A group of people that I have to imagine are really glum are the people who bought into the condo project above. Called Olive, it was billed as a chance to live the urban life with a gourmet grocery store within minutes. Wonder if they’ll be changing the name of the building now to reflect the new tenant. Playtex, perhaps? Or Dr. Scholl’s?

Categories: Uncategorized