Vancouver’s History of Independent Grocery Stores, Vol.6

King Joy Grocery, 5735 Joyce Street, 1974. Photo: CoV Archives, CVA 1095-01925.

The City of Vancouver archives recently released a new series of digitized Heritage Inventory photos. Predominately from the 1970s, these photos are great because they document the city’s ever-changing streetscape, and feature buildings and businesses that had never before been considered for heritage study. Included in the series are some fantastic photos of small, independent grocery stores with their iconic privilege signs and graphic advertising. Christine Hagemoen tells us all about them in this ongoing series….

Once ubiquitous landmarks in the 20th Century, small family-run grocery stores could sometimes be found along main thoroughfares, but often were deeply embedded within residential neighbourhoods. Grocery store proprietors (who frequently lived on the property) were well known in the community, and would even watch out for all of the neighbourhood kids. Whether they were armed with a list of staples to pick up, a note to buy cigarettes for mom, or some change to buy candy, these stores often gave kids their first sense of independence. After Canadian immigration rules changed in the decades following WW2, many immigrant families saw the corner grocery as a chance to earn a living in Vancouver.

However, since these photos were taken, in the mid-1970s, corner stores have all but disappeared. Supermarkets, chain convenience stores, suburban big box stores and our car-culture changed how people shopped. Starting in the 1980s, amendments to city by-laws and rising property costs sealed their fates. Whatever you called them — corner stores, mom-and-pop shops, confectionaries, grocery stores, or simply “the store” — these places once served as local gathering spaces and encouraged a sense of community. That makes them worth celebrating…

King Joy Confectionery – 5735 Joyce Street

One of the most visually appealing aspects of these small, independent grocery stores is their graphic signage. This 1974 CoV heritage survey photo of King Joy Grocery with its giant 7-Up bottle is no exception.

The front-yard store at 5735 Joyce Street started out as Royal Groceries around 1918, under the proprietorship of grocer James E. Askwith. Around 1953, the store was crowned King Joy by then-owners, Charles and Emily Bennett. That name stuck for the remainder of the store’s life.

In the late 1950s, King Joy Grocery served as a location for the newspaper’s free yo-yo classes for children; and in 1957, King Joy storekeeper, Harley Madsen, helped find a pair of lost three-year-old children after their frantic mothers entered his store looking for them – Madsen immediately dropped everything and offered to drive them around the neighbourhood in his car, and the search was ultimately successful.

Stanley Lanham (5), Vancouver Sun, October 15, 1948.

The grocery store at 5735 Joyce was also where “Vancouver’s youngest grocer” – five-year-old Stanley Lanham – came to fame. Stanley apparently preferred working in granddad, Arthur Lanham’s, grocery store to the “kid’s stuff” that other children in his neighbourhood indulged in. In addition to dusting shelves, stacking grocery supplies, weighing produce, and picking customer orders, young Lanham made local deliveries on his tricycle! His grandfather claimed that, in his 30 years in the grocery business, he’d “never seen a clerk who learned any faster than this one”. Four days after Stanley’s story first appeared in the October 15, 1948 edition of the Vancouver Sun, though, an update appeared after several readers phoned the department of labour complaining that a five-year-old was being put to work, prompting government labour officials to investigate the situation. Their findings: an infraction of the Child Labour Act, namely “that a juvenile was being employed and receiving a wage without consent of the minister.” Henceforth, Stanley was forced to hang up his white work apron and “retire” from the grocery business.

A sign on the side of the building in the 1974 photo above reads “Neighborhood Grocer” – an apt epithet, as this little grocery was once a fundamental part of the local community. When this photo was taken, owners Tommy Chee Yuok and Susan Seto had already been running the store (and living at the same location) for a few years. They would continue to do so throughout the 1980s.

King Joy’s close proximity to Sir Guy Carleton Elementary School (now closed) supported the little grocery until the early 1990s, at which time the block was redeveloped into the single-family-dwelling streetscape we still see today.

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