by Andrew Morrison | I love that scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when Jennifer Grey is asked to contribute to help save her brother – Ferris Bueller – who doesn’t actually need saving in the first place. Her reaction is priceless. “Go piss up a flagpole,” she deadpans. That tends to be my reaction whenever I’m asked to sign a petition, retweet for a cause, turn my avatar a different colour, or otherwise “click” to make the world a better place. It’s a cop-out.
So when I was repeatedly asked earlier today to sign a petition to “save” Le Marche St. George, an East Side corner market and neighbourhood victualling station long dear to my family, the Jennifer Grey side of me (she exists) tensed up a little. Why exactly does it need saving? Are landlords kicking them out? No. Are they out of money? Hardly. From what I understand, they’re in danger of having some of the liberties they’ve taken with the rules – eg. expanding their food service and outdoor seating – walked back by the City because one particularly vocal neighbour has a beef with them and will do whatever he/she can to upset their apple cart. It’s not in danger of closing. It’s not being forced to do anything except abide by the rules.
The trouble is that the rules in this case are archaic, and there’s only one person who serves to benefit from the enforcement of them. What should the City do if not enforce the letter of the law when it is quoted to them? In this case, they should do nothing. And by nothing I mean the same kind of nothing they did when a Federal Minister demanded the City shut down the pot shops. We thank them for their concern, and do nothing. I mean, the City does nothing so well on so many things. Why can’t this be one of them?
I don’t know the complaining individual from Adam or Eve, but it sounds to me like NIMBYism run amok. They tend to think the city revolves around them, and complain about everything from cold weather homeless shelters to funeral homes, emboldened by city officials who all too often over-estimate their reach and wrath. If you look at it from a purely cultural perspective, it’s really Vancouver that needs saving, not Le Marche St. George, because our NIMBYism borders on the lunatic. This particular person apparently forced Le Marche St. George to cancel last weekend’s visit from Santa, which was organised to help the store raise money for Syrian refugees. As far as NIMBYs go, that’s pretty fucking outstanding!
My family has eaten and shopped at Le Marche St. George countless times over the years. We’ve also attended dinners in the back garden and tasted wine verticals upstairs in the apartment, checked out pop-up shops showcasing local designers and artisans, and lounged outside on hot summer days thinking out loud how lucky the neighbourhood was to have a store like it.
Rules aside, Le Marche St. George was singled out as one of the best neighbourhood spots in the world by Monocle Magazine back in 2011 (disclosure: I wrote the piece). Monocle’s companion video (above, starts 5.05) does well in capturing the essence of the store, so if you’ve never been before you should press play. The headline of that issue’s front page feature was ironic in retrospect. It read: “What does it take to make a city both livable and lively?” It’s a fine question, and I don’t have the answer, but it seems obvious to me that when something works so well at bringing community together, it needs to be encouraged, not hindered. Le Marche St. George is an asset, not a problem. It should be treated accordingly, and have the rules changed to afford it the ability to operate unmolested, as is.
It’s important to remember that markets similar to it used to operate everywhere in Vancouver, that is until planners convinced the City to phase them out beginning in the 1960s. They wanted businesses to be seen lining high streets and main thoroughfares, not recessed in neighbourhoods. Why? I don’t know, but perhaps in their arrogance they felt they could predict the future of taste. They sound like they were cut from the same tragicomic cloth as those who nixed neon signage and thought creating the Granville Shitshow was a fine idea. (For a fascinating read on the subject of old school neighbourhood markets in Vancouver, check out this Frances Bula story from a couple of years ago.)
From what I understand, Le Marche St. George is permitted to operate as a convenience store. They are expected to sell things like cigarettes, shitty candies, sugary drinks, potato chips, instant noodles, toilet paper, garbage bags, and pornography. But that’s not what they do. Instead:
Le Marché St George is a corner store, a café, a meeting place, and a home. It’s a husband, wife, and daughter, a sister, a best friend, an aunt, 3 chickens, 2 cats, a fish, and 2 bee hives who live here. It’s a place where everyone is welcome. It’s seeing the neighbourhood kids growing up together. It’s love stories that have lead to happily-ever-afters. It’s where the mothers and fathers come to relax with their kids. It’s first dates and first babies. It’s running groups and knitting groups, community vineyards, and mariachi bands. It’s keeping spare keys to the neighbours houses. It’s honest people who work long hours. It’s a funky, handsome, all-crooked, old building where all of this is happening… and we want to keep it that way!
As do I. I signed the petition (as “Ferris Bueller”), but I also called the mayor’s office. Politicians loathe direct contact, so it’s best to contact them directly. Call 604-873-7621, often.