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…
Vernon Drive Grocery – 704 Vernon Drive
Vernon Drive Grocery (704 Vernon Dr.) is an Eastside institution. It is part of a set of buildings including the heritage house next door at 700 Vernon Drive. Both buildings are curiously clad in what appear to be asphalt roofing shingles (my second favourite “heritage” cladding after bottle-dash stucco). For years, the store was immortalized by photographers and artists (myself included) as a cool but rundown remnant of the past, with many amazed that the store was seemingly still in operation.
When the property went up for sale in early 2021, I feared the worst: that this unique property would be torn down and re-developed; another victim in this increasingly soulless city.
Thankfully, in September 2021, it was announced that the building would be preserved and that its new owners, Roger Collins and Rags Rajesh Narine, would be launching Rise Up Marketplace later that fall. In the ensuing two years, Rise Up has become a wonderfully positive community gathering space, store, and cafe, re-energizing this slice of Strathcona.
Vernon Drive Grocery (Rise-Up Marketplace) sits in the middle of Lot 1, of Block 19 in District Lot 182, which it shares with the houses at 700 and 726 Vernon Drive. Development on the lot began in January of 1902 when building permits were issued to Scandinavian immigrants, Carl G. Osterman (726 Vernon) and Andrew J. Bendickson (700 Vernon), for frame dwellings valued at $1000 each. The city’s fire insurance plan from July 1897, revised June 1903, shows the location of the two houses along with a few small outbuildings in-between.
In 1911, a building permit was issued to A. J. Bendickson for a “frame dwelling” valued at only $150. This is a comparatively modest amount, so it is unclear what kind of structure was actually built. Regardless, the 1912 fire insurance plan shows a third structure (where Vernon Drive Market/Rise-Up is located today) listed in the 1914 city directories as a grocery operating at 704 Vernon Drive.
It was a good location to establish a store. The Georgia East streetcar (1906-1925) passed the store as it doglegged along Vernon Drive from Harris Street (renamed East Georgia in 1915) to Keefer Street (renamed Frances Street in 1929). Admiral Seymour School (1900-today) was located directly across the street, and Firehall No.5 (1904-1918/9) was a block away at the corner of Vernon Drive and Keefer.
Curiously, over the next seven years the grocery at 704 Vernon Drive appears in the directories sporadically, and always with a different proprietor. It isn’t until 1921 when a building permit was issued for “Office/Store; Repairs/Alterations; Frame addition for dwelling” to Bendickson and builder/grocer, Clarence Hadden, that the operation of the grocery store at 704 Vernon Drive is firmly established.
After several decades of various owners and names, it was around 1954/55 when the neighbourhood store got its familiar name, Vernon Drive Grocery, under the proprietorship of Lena May Gray (Bunny) and her husband, Robert E. Gray. The name stuck for the next 67 years. Though the Pepsi privilege signs are now re-branded with the Rise Up logo, it’s great that the “Vernon Drive Groc” letters are still visible – a nod to the building’s history.