Cherry Blossoms

When we moved to Vancouver eight years ago, I followed Greg’s lead when we were choosing a neighbourhood to live in. I was young, and it was a mistake. We bought a house in what I now think of as the deep West Side*, a quiet area with single-family homes, sleepy streets and housing prices that have risen so dramatically since we moved in that I’m sometimes embarrassed to tell people where I live, as my peers struggle to afford to buy into the market at all. We probably should have moved to the Mt. Pleasant area, farther east, or somewhere in or near Downtown. I’m a city girl. I like being surrounded by strangers. I like it when stores are open later than 5PM. I like walking to run my errands.

Still, I’ve grown to absolutely adore our suburban-feeling neighbourhood, despite its suburban feel. Mostly I love it for two reasons. First and foremost, our block is a proper neighbourhood. We know our neighbours and they know us. We have a yearly block party. I know the kids on the block. When one neighbour’s tall ladder comes out in the fall, we all borrow it in succession to clean out our eaves troughs. This, more than pretty much any other domestic factor, makes me happy to live where we live. (No, I don’t think this neighbourhood magic is due to the location of our neighbourhood; we just lucked out when we moved onto this block.) The second is that we live close to Pacific Spirit Park, a massive woodlands where I love to walk the dog.

It’s quieter than I’d like out here, but I rejoiced several years ago when, at the corner of Dunbar Street and W. 18th Avenue, two construction signs went up. Several old, dilapidated one-story storefronts were torn down on either side of Dunbar street. Two four-story mixed-use buildings went up. I was giddy with the excitement of growing density in the neighbourhood. Density that might lead to better transit schedules, more interesting businesses and more people to say hello to when I walk around. I had new hope that young people might afford to move to the area. Maybe we’d get a corner grocery. Maybe we’d get a pub!

The first business to move in was a Starbucks, in the corner storefront of the eastern site. My first reaction was one of eye-rolling disappointment. It couldn’t have been a local indie cafe? Whatever.

But then something happened. People were in the Starbucks all the time. From morning till closing (at 9PM!), there were people out where there used to be none. Young families on weekends, business people picking up their caffeine fix on their way to work. And although not all of the apartments have sold, even a couple of years since construction was completed (a depressing fact), there have been more and more people waiting at the bus stop in front of the Starbucks.

We had hopes the Starbucks would draw great businesses to the other storefronts. Alas, no. We have a Dairy Queen, two nail salons, and a now-closed leasing office for a retirement home. A convenience store has been under construction for a few months, but I’ve grown cynical enough to stop hoping they’ll carry fresh produce.

But still. For a good couple of years we had that Starbucks, that magnet for people at all hours of the business day, and beyond.

And then suddenly it was gone.

Paper on the windows, a truck carrying away the espresso machines and chairs and outdoor umbrellas. A note on the door thanking patrons for their patronage.

I can’t make sense of it. Was it part of some larger corporate strategy, or was it really possible for the place that was always full of people to have failed?

I feel like the bootstrap my neighbourhood could have pulled itself up by has snapped. We were better off with just the single-family homes and shitty businesses than we are with vacant apartments and empty storefronts. It’s an odd juxtaposition, this idyllic affluent neighbourhood and its inability to support commerce and density.

Starbucks, I mourn your leaving. Where I had hope I now have none.

Unless a pub moves in. Now that would rock.

* Don’t get me wrong. Vancouver goes on west of here. But we live so far west of our peers that I stick by my inclination to refer to our home as being in the deep west side.