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Vancouver’s History of Independent Grocery Stores, Vol. 10

A & B Grocery, ca. 1970. Notice the interesting variety in store specialities. Photo: CoVArchives, CVA 780-330

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…

A & B Grocery, ca. 1970. Notice the interesting variety in store specialities. Photo: CoVArchives, CVA 780-330

A & B Grocery – 1902 Victoria Drive

In the past, several independent grocery stores operated along Victoria Drive in the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood. In 1947 alone, there were nine little grocery stores dotted along Victoria Drive from Frances Street to East 6th Avenue!

The ca.1970 colour Planning Department photo from the City of Vancouver Archives (pictured above) shows one of them, A & B Grocery, in all its vibrant graphic glory. At that time, the business was under the proprietorship of Doris Fong who ran the store from 1969 until 1989, along with her husband Earl. Purportedly, A & B Grocery was named for the Fong’s sons, Arthur and Baron.

In December 1908, a building permit for a $700 wood “frame store and dwelling” on the corner of East 3rd and Victoria Drive was issued to George Stevens. The 1912 Fire Insurance Plan confirms that a structure was indeed built on that corner, but the footprint is smaller than what is seen in these photographs. It is therefore possible that the two-storey dwelling attached to the east (1904 East 3rd) was added later – though I couldn’t find a building permit to support that hypothesis.

The corner store at 1902 Victoria Drive (aka 1902 East 3rd) makes its first appearance in the 1911 City Directories under the name of John Boscott, grocer. The previous year’s directory lists Boscott as working at Dominion Laundry, and his wife Louisa running a grocery store at 2014 Dundas Street. It is safe to assume then that the couple worked together at the new store but it was Louisa who was the proprietor. Proof of this is found in a “Notice to Creditors” in the August 22, 1914 edition of The Vancouver Sun, which names Louisa Alice Boscott as a “Grocer and Provision Dealer, at 1902 3rd E.”. It is possible the economic bust of 1913 greatly affected the Boscotts, forcing their business to go bankrupt.

Heritage Inventory photo of 1902 Victoria Drive, A & B Grocery ca.1985. Photo: CoV Archives, CVA 790-0147

A few different grocers operated out of this location in the following years, until Charles F. Rogers took over proprietorship in 1926. Rogers ran the Third Avenue Grocery until 1948, sharing the space with Charles Clark, shoe repair (1902 ½ Victoria Dr.). That year marked a significant change for the corner store — from fruit and veg to fish and chips — when John L. and Ivy Scott opened the Balmoral Fish & Chips shop. However, Charles and James N. McCready returned the store back to its grocery roots four years later. The Scottish brothers operated McCready Brother’s Grocery for over a decade; after which Betty and Ken Zuch ran their eponymous Betty and Ken’s Grocery for a few years before Doris Fong took over proprietorship.

The final store owner is believed to be Leo Yat Chan who took over from the Fongs in 1989. The store has now been vacant for over two decades, and it would be great to see it reactivated into a community space again!

A & B Grocery
Neighbourhood: East Vancouver
1902 Victoria Dr.

Groundbreaking Eleanor Collins, The City’s ‘First Lady Of Jazz’

Eleanor Collins, celebrated as "Vancouver's first lady of jazz" and recipient of the Order of Canada, passed away on March 3, 2024, at the age of 104. In tribute to her legacy and to extend our condolences to her family, we are republishing Christine Hagemoen's 2017 article that explores Collins' profound impact on Vancouver's music scene.

Vancouver’s History of Independent Grocery Stores, Vol. 9

In her latest instalment, Christine Hagemoen details the progression of Kong’s Grocery in Strathcona.

Kingsgate, the ‘Little Mall That Could’, Turns 50!

A brief history of one of the last remnants of Mount Pleasant’s working-class origins, still standing as an oasis of resistance to the neighbourhood's gentrification.

Vancouver’s History of Independent Grocery Stores, Vol. 8

This time around, Christine focuses on the legendary neighbourhood grocery corner store, located at 2262 Nanaimo Street.