Vancouver Would Be Cooler If Le Marche St. George Could Keep Operating As Is

FullSizeRender-(1)

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?

368315-1449562820-wide

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.

MORE CIVIC IMPROVEMENT IDEAS

There are 9 comments

  1. Time to update your story. Mayor’s office just confirmed that they are not being shut down and that this petition is moot. Maybe take out that last line encouraging harassment of city workers.

  2. I’m a regular patron of Le Marche St. George and love the establishment (the crepes, yum!) but find this whole uproar incredibly misleading. They were negligent business owners operating with the wrong permit for almost five years. The city never changed anything on them, they simply investigated a complaint and found the business to be in direct contravention of the terms in which it was originally permitted to operate. Nobody would have a problem if they were shut down for violations after a food inspection. It’s not the city’s fault, it’s basic diligence. The BLIND WOMAN who complained had a valid concern, she wasn’t being a NIMBY, she simply asked to keep the sidewalk clear for pedestrians. Again, a valid point. You can’t set up a film set, food truck, or parking lot on a sidewalk without a permit… for an hour, let alone 5 years. The business should be around and allowed to operate but they need to own up to the fact that this is their own fault. Please post the background to the story: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/marche-st-george-community-rallies-1.3356441

  3. According to the CBC…the complainant is “a legally blind woman who lives close by, said she
    struggles to get by the bric-a-brac strewn across the sidewalk in front
    of the café”.

    To quote from above: “…as NIMBYs go, that’s pretty fucking outstanding.”

  4. Heads up, the complainant doesn’t actually seem to fit the “type” you describe. She’s a blind woman who lives in the neighbourhood, and her complaint is that it’s dangerous for her to get around the sidewalk because the patio, and strollers, and toys spill out too far. Seems like a pretty valid complaint to me. I can think of a couple hybrid cafe/grocery stores and I’d be happy for the zoning to accommodate them, but I also think the owner needs to be respectful of EVERYONE in the neighbourhood and keep that patio from spilling out.

    I know this is an opinion piece more than a piece of journalism, but for me, your assumptions about the complainant seem problematically sensational when all the research you had to do about what “type” of person she is, is a click away:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/marche-st-george-community-rallies-1.3356441

  5. “because one particularly vocal neighbour has a beef with them”

    Whether you portray this person as a NIMBY or whistleblower, the fact remains that this person is reportedly legally blind and raises a good point about safety.
    We can all agree that the City or Province or whatever appropriate jurisdiction could and should change laws to benefit neighbourhood treasures such as LMSG without calling out someone with guts to step up and call out bad behaviour.

  6. I’m not sure if this was clear when the article first appeared, but it turns out the original complaint was about the sidewalk being un-navigable to a legally-blind neighbour, and any threat to the café’s food service was an unintended side-effect. I have a hard time seeing that as NIMBYism, since it’s a basic aspect of accessibility.

    I love La Marche, and would hardly single them out if there article weren’t about them, but they’re a pretty good example of a general accessibility problem with small businesses in Vancouver. While I’m sure they’re absolutely sincere about being “a place where everyone is welcome,” in practice they fall short in a number of ways. It shouldn’t take a complaint from a disabled person to ensure they can use a sidewalk.

  7. “Deborah Fong, a legally blind woman who lives close by, said she struggles to get by the bric-a-brac strewn across the sidewalk in front of the café.

    ‘It is very stressful for me to walk down the sidewalk next to where I live and bump into chairs, and strollers, and bikes, and kids’ toys,’ said Fong.

    ‘All I’m asking is to have the sidewalk clear and accessible for me and for all the other pedestrians that need a clear sidewalk.'”

    I’m not quuuiiteee sure this meets the definition of NIMBY-ism.

Vancouver Would Be Cooler If More of Its Restaurants Had Lazy Susans

Why does a city that celebrates share plates and "family-style" dining have so few of these clever devices?

Vancouver Would Be Cooler If It Had Whistler’s Pangea Pod Hotel

After a recent stay at the new hotel in Whistler, we're scratching our heads as to why Vancouver doesn't have something similar yet.

What If Vancouver Followed Berlin’s Lead and Froze Rents for Five Years?

The rent-freeze starts in January and is retroactive to June, so landlords can't jack up the rent in one last frenzied orgy of greed.

Vancouver Would Be Cooler If It Didn’t Occasionally Scare the Living Daylights Out of Us

They could have used any old alarm to warn of fire or accident, but instead they chose the one that terrifies everyone everywhere.