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…
Lucky Mart / Cheramy’s Grocery – 2262 Nanaimo Street
A neighbourhood fixture for decades, today the Lucky Mart is less of a convenience store and more of a place to get alterations done. Like many other “corner stores” have done in recent years, Lucky Mart has diversified its offerings in order to survive. When I stopped by the store this past summer, the exterior was surrounded by a verdant display of flowering plants in large white buckets. A partially obscured handwritten sign resting on the front window suggested that the “special flowers” were for sale, but it was unclear for how much.
Located in a two-story 1913-era building designed by architect J.P. Matheson for Grandview Hughes Ltd., unfortunately nowadays much of the original building details have been obscured by vinyl windows and stucco siding, added some 40 years ago. The 1914 city directories show that John Beasley was the proprietor of the first grocery store operating in the space on the corner of East 7th and Nanaimo. Still operating as a store today – that’s 110 years of continued service!
When the 1978 City of Vancouver heritage inventory photo shown above was taken, the store was called Cheramy’s Grocery – named for Emile Cheramy, who ran the store along with his son, Albert, for five decades. The elder Cheramy was born in Belgium, and immigrated to Canada in 1906, settling first on the prairies before coming to Vancouver to work as a glazier, around 1925. Approximately eight years later, in 1933, the Cheramy family (Emile, wife Mary (Marie), son Albert (Bert), and daughter Alice) moved to 2262 Nanaimo Street to operate Cheramy’s Grocery. From glazier to grocer, what made Emile Cheramy change vocations? We’ll likely never know.
By the early 1950s, Emile was retired. His son, along with his wife, Odylle and their five children — Leo, Lorette, Lurene, Louis, and Leonard – took over the store’s operation. Newspaper archives reveal that Bert was the lucky winner of not one, but two retailer contests: a new Pepsi-Cola beverage cooler for his store in 1959; and then, ten years later, he was one of six lucky Consols cigarette dealers who won a 25-inch colour television worth about $850 (or $6700 today) in a Consols display contest.
After almost 30 years serving the local community, in 1979 Albert ran an ad in the business opportunities section of the Vancouver Sun for his “grocery/confectionery”, indicating that he was finished with the grocery business. By the early 1980s, the corner store was optimistically renamed Lucky Mart – one it certainly lived up to for Lana and Joery Leung in 2022, when they won a $6 million Lotto 6/49 draw on a ticket purchased from the Lucky Mart.
The City of Vancouver recently launched a public survey asking for feedback on corner stores and exploring ways to support and even potentially expand these kinds of businesses, stating that “small stores in residential neighbourhoods are historic and cherished assets in our communities”. (I couldn’t agree more.) The survey also includes an online map feature where you can map and share stories about your favourite corner stores.
The survey is open until October 10th, 2023. If you love corner stores (past and present) as much as I do, I strongly suggest you participate.