Yay, Starbucks! (No, really!)

I bought a Starbucks coffee and sandwich on Wednesday, and it made my day.

This might sound like a very bizarre statement, especially in a city with an abnormally high Starbucks density (two per block in places), and indeed I don’t usually go there. But Wednesday’s purchase represents much more than just lunch…


I admit thatthe main reason we bought a house where we did was price; it’s not a fashionable area, at all, and we’re on a main road to boot, so the house prices aren’t quite as insane as elsewhere in the city (although it’s all relative). But we’ve come to really like the area. We’re friendly, rather than friends, with our neighbours, which is a wee bit of a shame, although there are a few people I stop and chat with on a regular basis, and many more I know by sight. But it’s very pleasant, up on a hill with lots of trees and green space and a partial mountain view, and safe: our tenant has stored his kid’s bike out in the back yard, visible from the back alley and with no lock, for almost two years; I’ve accidentally left our back door unlocked for a couple of days at a time, with no ill effects; and an Amazon package (containing the final Harry Potter book on the day of its publication, no less) once sat undisturbed and unstolen on our front step for a whole long weekend. Oh, and we got a flyer through our door last week saying that the city is going to start holding live Sunday evening concerts in one of the parks in August! SCORE!

The problem, though, is that there’s nothing there. Well, nothing except for houses; no shops. The closest two places where I can buy any food at all are gas stations, and they’re only good for junk food cravings. There used to be a really depressing strip mall a few blocks away, consisting of a grocery store that had sticky floors and smelled just like the animal facility at work, a decent-looking bakery that I think was only open from 1:02 – 3:13 pm every second Tuesday or something like that, a Polish deli that I never saw open even once, and the world’s dirtiest and scariest looking dentist. Oh, and there was a Sri Lankan curry place that we really liked, but they closed a few months after we moved in.

As for dining out: we’ve tried, we really have. There are numerous hole-in-the-wall, family-run, mostly Asian restaurants a few blocks away in either direction, but we’ve not found a good one yet. The ones that look good from the outside have served extremely salty, cold, bland, or otherwise bad food, and the rest… look, I know it’s a tough and very competitive industry, with very tight margins, but how much does it cost you to fill a bucket with soap and water and clean your windows and awnings?! Some of them are filthy, looking like they haven’t been cleaned in years – if not generations – and while I’m sure the food in some of these restaurants is excellent, I just don’t trust them not to give me food poisoning.

Main Street, which is an awesome little mecca of good cafes, restaurants, bars and vintage and designer clothing stores, is within walking distance in the summer, but not realistically in the dark, cold, and/or rain. And so if we want to eat out, we usually drive or bus-out-taxi-home to Main Street, Commercial Drive, or Granville Island, where there’s a plethora of appetising options.

All this is starting to change, though.

The aforementioned depressing strip mall was torn down a couple of years ago, and we got wind of a mixed residential and commercial development that would replace it. This is now nearing completion; the Shopper’s Drug Mart opened a few weeks ago (as well as the pharmacy and cosmetics, they have a food section with – miracle of miracles – such exotic offerings as cans of soup, pasta and sauces, milk, juice, eggs, bacon, sausages, cheese and bread. I can now walk to buy the ingredients for an admittedly basic breakfast or dinner! This is a revelation! It’s sad how excited I am!), and the grocery store is starting to stock up and looks ready to open soon.

And now the Starbucks is open!

I passed the development on my way home on Wednesday (I decided at lunch time to go and work from home all afternoon), and was super-duper-awesomely excited to see the lights on and tables set up outside. I just had to get off the bus a few stops early and go and celebrate with a coffee and a sandwich. I hate to be one of those people, but in other areas of the city, Starbucks has been the first business in the first wave of gentrification, and other cozy cafes and nice-looking restaurants and bars have sprung up around them within a few months. Indeed, I’ve heard from a very reliable source (the developer, who’s a friend) that a new restaurant and/or bar will be launching within a few blocks of the new Starbucks some time in 2012. I can’t wait to be able to walk a few short blocks to buy groceries, sit in a nice coffee shop, and go out for dinner!

Part of me feels a leeeetle bad for all the existing business owners, who will no doubt be pushed out, just as the rising rents on Main Street are starting to push businesses out to the east (towards us, yay!). But hey – Starbucks may be many things, but at least it’s clean, with free Wi-Fi, and open at reasonable hours. And their cookies are awesome.



Yay, Starbucks.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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19 Responses to Yay, Starbucks! (No, really!)

  1. Anthony says:

    I know exactly how it feels when things start to improve. My wife and I moved to our current house about 3 years ago and it’s amazing to see how the neighborhood has evolved from one Vancouver’s… less appealing neighborhoods into something that’s quite nearly trendy
    Unlike your place, tho, we’ve had starbucks here for a while and we’re less than a block from a fantastic set of restaurants and shops, but the quality of the stores that have started to arrive over the past few months is just like being downtown or in kitsilano. I’m not feeling too bad for the ones that go under, however. In this area, they tend to be the ones that are either too old and grimy to bring in the customers, or the ones that move in expecting to charge New York prices. If you can’t wash the floor once a decade, I don’t think I want to eat there.

    Anyhow, It’s just a shame that we’re considering leaving for a few years, just as thing start to get really good. (By which I mean that a crepe place just opened up within a few blocks of my house last week! mmmm… crepes!)

    • But just think how nice it’ll be when you come back!

      We’d originally thought that we’d use our current house as a first-rung-on-the-ladder, from which to move up within a few years. But now that the area’s improving we’d like to stay. The house itself has plenty of flaws, so Mr E Man’s new plan is to knock it down and build something better. But we’re talking a 10 year plan at the very least!

  2. nico says:

    I know what you mean, the first Costa has opened recently in Cricklewood (Northwest London, setting for White Teeth), and it is really bringing up the tone of the area! Now if only the dodgy betting shops could close…

  3. Cromercrox says:

    Whenever the Croxii move in anywhere the tone of the area suddenly nosedives.

  4. Bob O'H says:

    Sounds like a great development, but will it just become filled with generic stores? We found a really good cafe in our shopping centre (the carrot & ginger soup was amazing), but they closed down to be replaced with a teddy beat shop, of all things. Then we found a great pizza place, but that was closed and replaced with a Mexican chain.

    There is a Starbucks, but it’s expensive, and doesn’t have much of an atmosphere.

    • cromercrox says:

      Teddy Beat? You mean they sold rock’n’roll 45s? Cool!!

      Just got back from Norwich – which Bob will recall is a fine city – and found some shops I never knew were there before, though Mrs Crox had an inkling. One was this fantastic flea market, which didn’t actually sell fleas, but all sorts of interesting furniture and bric-a-brac, for knockdown prices. They were selling lovely old pianos in erotic exotic veneer with sconces on the front, only in need of a tune, 200 quid.

      Another was this Asian foodstore, where I bought a packet of fenugreek seeds (to add to my home-made curry powder) and some fresh udon noodles, loose leaf jasmine tea and other stuff. The proprietor told me he’d been there for 40 years and even sends food to Hong Kong (!) – it is the best Asian foodstore I’ve ever seen, including in Chinatown in London, and in Leeds, where I was an undergraduate. He must sell lots of things to the restaurant trade, as there were enormous sacks of different kinds of rice; rows and rows just devoted to all sorts of cardamom pods; huge cartons of fortune cookies; sacks the size of pillows full of fennel seeds and so on. Norwich seems to be one of those places that supports all the big chains (including Starbucks), as well as lots of small, interesting specialist shops, all within easy walk of one another, and they all seem to get on famously.

      • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

        Officer, officer! Henry stole my joke!

        I expect there’ll be a mix of chains and independent cafes/shops, if the surrounding areas are any guide.

        We found one place a short drive away that rents Bollywood movies and soundtracks, and also sells some of the tastiest marinated meats of all time. A bizarre mix, but it works – and they always play great music in the shop!

      • Bob O'H says:

        There used to be a really good tea shop by the market square (IIRC, just around the corner on the northern side). But that was 15 years ago, so it’s probably a boutique now.

        Which reminds me – I don’t know if you remember Bookside in Hyde Park in Leeds (a book shop, surprisingly), but when I went there last year, it had been knocked down. It was my favourite bookshop – everything a second-hand bookshop should be. Dark, slightly dingy, full of paperbacks and with odd corners in every corner.



        • cromercrox says:

          I hate it when old secondhand bookshops go. Me and Crox Minima have a fantasy in which we open a specialist SF bookshop in Cromer. Mrs Crox said that if we did it, we’d be bankrupt within a week.

          • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

            Secondhand bookshop is one of my dreams, too.

            My husband’s is to open a brewpub serving good food somewhere on the BC coast, with a kayak rental place attached. Maybe he’ll let me add a bookshop to that development? I can run it when I’m not working behind the bar (which was my all-time favourite summer job as a student). He’s already lined up a brewmaster, and will do most of the cooking himself.

            The nearest secondhand bookshop to me is… (thinks…) um. Do charity shops with a small bookcase in the corner count? If not, it’s about a 20 minute bike ride away.

  5. Frank says:

    Henry, are you sure that the secondhand furniture does not have fleas in? Not to mention woodworm.

    I agree it is the balance between chains (that make you feel safe, with a known level of quality) and
    independent stores (that tend to be more interesting and can deliver better quality if truth be told).

    Of course you know the area is really gentrified when you see a restaurant open up that sells retro de-greased greasy spoon fare but at five times the price of the old closed-down greasy spoon cafe.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Your comment about balance is spot-on, I think!

      I’ll keep an eye out for retro de-dirted dirty restaurant fare at inflated prices 🙂

    • Frank says:

      There is a downside of course. In my suburb in north London I can count cafes from 5 different chains, plus half a dozen independent cafes and an ice-cream parlour that also serves coffee. That is really too many for an average high street. We are lucky that we still have several independent shops – a fish shop, a bookshop, chikldrens bookshop, toy shop, cheese shop, and an old-style grocer store as well as a couple of delis.

      • cromercrox says:

        I bet the cheese shop has resident bouzouki players, and never has any cheese.

      • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

        There’s a four-way junction in downtown Vancouver that has two Starbucks on it, on diagonally opposite corners, and they’re both always full. There’s another coffee shop (Blenz, a Canadian chain) on one of the other corners. But downtown is weird; I don’t think the demand is quite that high in normal neighbourhoods like mine!

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