London Drugs plans to swallow my neighbourhood

There is a London Drugs in my neighbourhood on E. Hastings St in the beautiful, crazily expensive, but ever more cash-strapped city (thanks Olympics!) of Vancouver, BC.

You can buy a vacuum there, a rubbermaid tote, toothpaste, contraceptives, drugs, computers, cameras, batteries, cosmetics, stationary, junk food, camping gear in summer, cookware, toasters, blenders, hallmark cards and holiday decor according to the season.

London Drugs is big on the street already, bigger than any other store.  But not big enough. They plan to take over most (or all?) of the block to the west. They want to  dominate Hastings, our main street in this little urban village of Hastings-Sunrise. Or maybe it’s an IGA coming in- the rumours are flying, in the absence of any clear consultation.

Tevere deli is gone already to my shock. I heard from another of my favourite shop-keepers that “it’s a done deal and that even the businesses didn’t know about it until too late.”

Are you mad yet?! It’s not over. The liquor store between Slocan and Kaslo is now privatized. Done again overnight with no public consultation. The landlord refused to sign the lease with the BC Liquor Store. Across the street a huge new mental health facility is being built (I’m fine with that, being a fan of all forms of health) with a massive NEW SHOPPERS DRUGMART.

We chose this neighbourhood  because we could walk here to buy groceries, stop at a cafe, get a key cut, visit the doctor,  go to school and greet people I recognize and who recognize me along the way.  Small businesses are key to what makes this neighbourhood great.

I love buying from shop-keepers who own the stores they work in.  I love that there is a mix of stores on this street; from independent dollar stores, to Donald’s and all the other fabulous green grocers, to Wheelhouse Seafoods who now sell a full range of non-medicated meat, to Le Petit Saigon– my favourite pho in Vancouver, to the Cake Master bakery/optometrist shop to GreenRoom Yoga, owned by my teacher Alix, who also lives in the neighbourhood.

It’s not perfect for sure. We could make it safer, we could encourage more of the kind of businesses and services we need. But I feel deeply lucky to live here where some small businesses are able to thrive.

This is when I would like some super-hero activists to sweep in and make this go away. The cost of “fighting a battle” is that we don’t get the time to create the peace. I’ve got ideas and energy for that right now! I don’t want to spend time beating back the corporate behemoth that wants to swallow my neighbourhood.

I don’t even know what to do but write this. But I mentioned this on Twitter and Barbara said “boycott ’em all. Picket them.” I mentioned it to my 6 year old  and he said “we got to tell everyone and get it in the newspaper.” (He learned a few lessons from the successful community fight to save Garibaldi school last year.)

I’m up for something fun and powerful. Any ideas, energy,  or previous rabble-rousing experience you’d like to share? Please also share any up to the minute information…lots of rumours are circulating about the plans for the block.



  1. Keira,

    I’ve just returned from a few days working in a Maine seacoast village once dependent on fishing, now on tourism and on the summer folks who buy up some of the treasured old houses (or build huge ones) along the sea and then leave them empty nine months of the year. They want desperately to keep their small town intact with its family-owned shops. There are so many ways our local communities are being decimated. And you’re so right, taking positive action before it comes to this is really the way to go. But sometimes, sometimes, we have to stand up and let our voices be heard even if it’s too late.

    I come from a long line of rabble-rousers. My parents had us marching in DC against Vietnam and locally against a Nuke, and my mom became a state rep to fight environmental degradation in New Hampshire. My brother and sister-in-law are union activists. My mom is currently organizing a protest at her retirement community over the firing of a beloved staff member. I was brought up to believe that staying quiet about wrongs makes you complicit in them.

    Some first thoughts (and I’m going to get in touch with my brother in SF to see if he has any ideas):

    Have you thought of coming up with a Carrot mob kind of community action? ( Something fun and positive to show the remaining shopkeepers that you intend to stick with them and NOT shop at London Drugs?

    Do you have a neighborhood association? If you don’t, now’s the time for one. Any great community organizers around you? (Did you see the movie Milk? Karen Silkwood? It takes one person to get a movement going.) A relationship with the city planners? Could you first go to them to see if there is a process for challenging the move?
    Is there something about London Drugs’ labor policies you could get them on?

    I’d personally take a multi-pronged approach–Harry’s right on about getting the word out. How about a big meeting to make a plan. Do it all–petitions, letters, marches, and a sit-in on the block, with music and stories about the disappearing shops.

    It could be too late for that block but you could help make sure it doesn’t happen elsewhere in the city. As for boycotting, I was serious. How many of us complain about corporate behemoths and then hop in the care, drive drive drive to Walmart? Home Depot? Sadly, they are all that’s left in some places and people have no choice. But where we have a choice, it’s up to us.

    First the UBC garden and now this. And tomorrow it’ll be something else. But positive results can come of standing up and speaking out. I mean, look at your son–an activist before he’s eight! You’re awesome.


  2. picketing the behemoths is too late – someone had to sell the property to them in the first place, and that’s where the activism needs to focus. globalmegacorporatemonsterstore isn’t going to care if some people walk around with placards denouncing them, or if they lose a few sales – they’re thinking larger scale, longer term.

    the same thing has happened in calgary – the old family-run telstar pharmacy was bought out by a big box chain. now all that remains of telstar is their signature sign on display at the glenbow museum, and a lot of people buying disposable pampers at a mild discount from the box store that replaced it.

    most of the city is much worse – there were no small mom-and-pop stores in the first place. my community was dropped into place, freeze-dried, just-add-water, instacommunity. complete with chain grocery store (a sobey’s, so not as bad as it could be – they’re actually pretty good), a few token small businesses, and the requisite Global Caffeine Monopoly outlet. we didn’t have a chance, and the community zoning is so tightly regulated that there is no chance for other local shops from opening – gotta protect the local monopoly of the shops that got there first, after all…

    the only way to stop them is to prevent them from gaining beachheads in the first place.

  3. soul, diversity, flavour.

    these are words that rise up
    when I think of the jewel of a neighborhood
    I live in.

    Little did I know some three years ago
    that I was landing in a thriving community.
    I moved from off the Drive and grieved the loss
    of market shopping until I discovered it was
    happening all the while in Hastings- Sunrise.

    I’m not willing to shut up and smile
    as the big squish the little guys.

    From pho to kasha,
    sushi to papusa,
    fresh seafood and bokchoy-
    my plate is full
    and my heart is greatful
    for the women and men
    who bring us flavour, quality and

    Makes me want to out up my hand
    and stick out my neck.


  4. Keira

    Just finished reading articles for school on neoliberalism and it’s devastating impacts and here I come home to read about all that is happening here in my neighbourhood that I didn’t even know about! The secrecy and lack of consultation…

    I wonder about the role of existing community orgs like Kiwassa and Frog Hollow and whether they might be able to lend a hand with any of their community organizers. I wonder about our local MLA Shane Simpson who’s office is on Hastings and what we could do there. I also wonder about Ellen Woodsworth (recently re-elected to city council) and any ideas she might have. She lives near the Drive but has a lot of experience as an community organizer before she moved into more formal political struggles.

    I like strategies that are fun – like Garabaldi’s band and costumes. I like linking it to the health of the community – that small local and family run businesses are critical in maintaining the health of a neighbourhood and community. There is something to be said purely for raising neighbourhood awareness about what is happening, about the value of local businesses and what decisions are made about our neighbourhoods without us knowing.

    I think of how many of us shop at London Drugs and how many people would say “so what?” if they heard about this expansion – this is the point and time for education about the effects of this, the importance of local, small, and family businesses, farmers, etc.

    I think media attention might be another route – Harry is right now. Do we know anyone who might be sympathetic at any of the newspapers?

    Thank YOU for telling us and for starting the ball rolling!

  5. What wonderful comments and emails appeared today. There’s something to this blogging stuff (I even got out of cleaning up after dinner and H’s bedtime to write last night’s post).

    Barbara, I love the idea of the Carrot Mob- that’s exactly what I’m looking for. Small, short-term, fun to organize and to do, not too many meetings attached and effective at getting the word out.

    D’Arcy, The thought of picketing makes my stomach turn. I’m ok with the current size of London Drugs. I shop there too. They’re Canadian, based locally at least. It’s containment strategies we need and I think that’s best done at this point by supporting and celebrating the remaining small businesses as best we can.

    Jacinda- there was a woman in one of the stores yesterday as we were talking who said to the shopkeeper “well I hope you’ll move on down to the Drive if they shut you down.” But we can have more than one urban village in East Van, can’t we? We don’t have to relegate the rest to the big box entitities. It’s our small business owners who flavour the local stew.

    Cindy- thank you for rolling the ball back. I love how you linked support for small businesses to small farmers in our conversation today. This is about health and security. Huge retail conglomerates bring us cheap good from far away but they also make us vulnerable and dependent on forces way beyond our control.

    I found out a bit more today and I’m even more creeped out by the sneaky, approach to making this change in the neighbourhood. But I think that’s for another post soon…

  6. Ok…well after reading this today and the conversation we had Keira, I just had to learn more about carrot mobs. And wow! How exciting is that! For those of you who don’t know about them, check this out! I loved it. Exactly the kind of thing I’m keen to be a part of. I love how fun it is. I like how it raises people’s consciousness, increases community and in this case, raises money for energy efficiency changes, through something people are doing all the time anyway – buying something – cool. Especially love the support for a small family run local business.

    I also like how the UK folks have a ‘how to’ section on their website including what they did, who they called, templates and promo materials. Good for getting ideas…

  7. Hmmm, could I offer a dissenting opinion and actually hope for a London Drugs expansion?

    I agree, small, family run stores and businesses can help create neighbourhood cohesiveness and unity. At the same time, living in a capitalisitc society (with socialistic underpinnings), the landlords are free to rent, lease or sell their properties to whoever they want. Ideally, they would consult and want what is best for the surrounding neigbourhood, but ultimately, money and development has a huge influence.

    And exactly what stores are suggested to be being taken over? the ‘puff’ shop? …good riddance (within a block of an elementary school too!) the pawn shops? good bye! the jewerly stores that have no customers, yet somehow stay in business? How many people actually walk around that part of Hastings at night? Most of the businesses close by 6.

    A larger, brighter London Drugs or IGA would brighten up that area of Hastings, bringing in more people and thus, supporting unique shops. It could act as a catalyst to help revitalize the area and bring in more businesses that people would want to support.

    I’m not sure how dominating London Drugs would be physically…there are height restrictions they’ll have to follow…so I don’t think it would change the skyline of the area too much, it at all.

    Look at the Vancouver Wal-Mart situation…they offered to do create a store that was at a high environmental standard, with tons of recycling(materals, water), natural light, etc…it gets boshed by city hall…and they end up going to Grandview highway anyway building a ‘regular’ Wall-Mart. And what happend to that area of Fraser and Marine Drive?…nothing…still a depressing, non-retail friendly area of town with minimal service, retail or otherwise.

    Rememer, London Drugs AND Shoppers Drug Mart are both Canadian companies. I’m hoping Shoppers helps out that part of Hastings as well. Put in some retail outlet or restuarant or something in that closed up Hall across from Starbucks.

    At one point, didn’t people WANT a privatized liqour store? Supposedly for better selection, service and prices? Hopefully they got rid of the ‘health enhancement’ parlour that used to be above the the government liquor store BECAUSE of the privatized liqour store.

    I can appreciate people’s concerns…but these big stores/chains can act as anchors to an area to draw people and businesses in, and not necessarily act as a ‘black hole’ for a neighborhood.

    -on a different topic:
    … yes, saving Garibaldi may have been a good idea (especially, if they closed it, the board is allowed to sell the land and the assets on it for BELOW market value to a private institution)…but do recognize that it is costing the board about $250,000 a year to run it (just for heating, hydro, maintenance, etc) …speaking of which, has any of the proposals to help draw kids/activities to the school started up yet?

    I apologize for the ramblings…it’s difficult to write cohesively while helping the kids out in the bath! 🙂

  8. In terms of Garabaldi – I am a parent of a child at Hastings and for many reasons we feel that the school is just way too big and not doing so well on issues of safety and wellness. Too many kids and the adults can barely (and not always do) manage. We went to Garabaldi today for a visit and wow, it is so lovely. So quiet and vibrant, so child-centred, so positive, so much of how I think schools should be. And yes, the Frog Hollow day care program was happening there today, along with a ‘parents in education’ meeting, some homelearner families, and it certainly felt like a community place. I want the school board to be investing in small neighbourhood schools. Thank you to all of the families and community folks who fought to keep it open. Whether we send our child there or not, the presence of schools like Garabaldi enhances the health of my neighbourhood and city and I’m glad for that.

  9. It is with kudos for the parents and staff at Garibaldi to help create the atmosphere of comfort and inclusion that is there.

    Are you aware of a children’s author meeting/school orientation/book give away for 3 and 4 year olds ( I think it’s called) that will be held next week at Nelson by Nelson and Garibaldi jointly? Something people with kids in the area may want to check out…

    I think Hastings is classified as ‘partially inner-city’, while Garibaldi (and other nearby schools like Begbie, Nelson, A.R. Lord, Maquinna and Maquinna Annex) are not…due to its surrounding area, family income and student transience(sp).

    Hence, my ambivalence for the London Drugs expansion…

    Gentrification may be a dirty word for some, but if it can help bring in more money and support for and from families and other social services, then why not? …Hastings-Sunrise is a large area, and the Hastings street that dominates it is long, with enough retail space for all types of stores and services.

  10. Joshua,

    Love the dissenting comment! I tried to encourage a couple of folks who emailed me yesterday to post here but to no avail so far. I do think that discussions about our public spaces- in this case, Hastings St- are best held in public spaces, where we can share and perhaps even come to a greater understanding together.

    I’m fine with London Drugs on the block. I shop there too. But I disagree that more, bigger, chain stores act as an anchor for small business. My childhood and youth in the ‘burbs (Scarborough Ontario) and my 20’s on the island in Nanaimo have convinced me otherwise.

    I’m also convinced that small businesses that support local suppliers do more for a communities’ economic, social and environmental well-being.

    But I don’t think you’re arguing for corporations over small business? Maybe our common ground is that healthy, dynamic small businesses are important to us and that we’d like to see lots of that on Hastings?

    Cindy and I’ve been talking about fun actions that might support some of those businesses. I love the Carrotmob idea Barbara links to above.

  11. Hi Keiramc

    I hope I didn’t sound snarky in the posts…it can be difficult to disagree and not sound too ‘opposition-like’ in the written medium.

    You’re right, I’m not arguing for corporations over small business…and it is the small, local businesses that do create a ‘neighborhood’ and that sense of connectiveness.

    At the same time, I don’t remember the dissention or opposition to the opening of the ‘puff’ shop in our neighborhood, or the existance of the ‘golden arches’ right next to an elemntary school when we are all trying to promote healthy eating. If it came down to a choice, I would rather have an expanded London Drugs/IGA and fewer of the seedy stores on Hastings.

    …and don’t get me started on the education system! 🙂

    ….just stirring the pot… 🙂

  12. Joshua, you stir up some legitimate concerns, but I can’t resist pointing out…

    * The “Puff” shop lasted all of three or four months. I don’t recall ever seeing a customer there. Now there’s a clean and attractive Yoga Studio in that space, where I understand the owner cannot get anything except a short-term lease, presumably because the landlord is eying development.

    * It’s safe to say that if it was a McDonald’s that was forcing these businesses out, Keira’s post would have been even more enraged. I don’t think there’s anyone talking here who wants more fast food chains in the neighborhood. But I fear the direction development is taking suggests we will be getting more of them…

  13. I was born and raised in East Vancouver and I proud to say I’ve lived here for 45 years. I live walking distance to Hastings St. and my mother was also born and raised in East Vancouver and she is 79 years of age. Those buildings along Hastings St. (excluding the London Drugs) are nearly100 years old . . . this is a growing city not a quaint little town. If you want quaint move to Nelson or Parksvill. Change is necessary, seriously who would go into a bakery that sells eyeware. My parents at the beautiful age they are are completely excited about something new and fresh in the neighborhood and we should all have such an open mind.

    If a Public Hearing was necessary they would have held one. Whomever owns this land can do what they please with it. The height of the building will be the same as the subsidized housing across the street.

    We are just lucky it isn’t another metnal health centre; someone would actually prefer that instead of a store that you can walk to and get almost everything . . . gee that makes sense. One writer wrote “Across the street a huge new mental health facility is being built (I’m fine with that, being a fan of all forms of health) with a massive NEW SHOPPERS DRUGMART”. Are you for real you would rather have a mental facility in your neighborhood than a LD??? OMG

    It will attract more shoppers which means more culture and isn’t that what Vancouver is all about?

  14. yikes. where to start with that one…

    there is SO much more to culture than shopping or commerce. if culture was just a matter of drawing in a critical mass of shoppers, it’d be a simple matter of slapping a Pottery Barn on every corner, with Starbucks and Future Shop in between.

    but culture is about diversity. about coexistence and understanding. it’s human. it doesn’t come in a shipping container, and doesn’t have a global headquarters calling the shots.

    i don’t think keira was saying that LD isn’t welcome – just that the obliteration of neighbourhood businesses and resources as part of the need to feed expansion of the corporate beast is counter to the soul of a thriving community.

  15. Thank you to Keira for stirring up a lot to think about. This whole issue – and the dialogue on the blog – has got me thinking about so many important issues and the dissenting views help me to clarify why I think what I do.

    What makes a neighbourhood and commercial district feel safe and vibrant? What do we need to sustain us? What happens when stores get bigger and there are fewer small (and family owned) businesses?

    Change can be a good thing. I don’t think anyone is arguing against change. But not all change can be measured the same – not every change is a good thing. I’m all for revitalizing neighbourhoods and making streets feel safer. But change that looks like a mega store (or 2) taking over an entire block isn’t the kind of change that I think is a good thing for a neighourhood, a commercial and cultural district.

    I feel like we are told all the time that gentrification is the answer to making our neighbourhoods thrive and be safe. One model is presented as the one and only way. There are more possibilities available to us than we can imagine.

    I know very little about urban planning and development but boy, do I ever feel motivated to get learning more. I know that the urban planner Jane Jacobs wrote “The Life and Death of Great American Cities” in the 60s because she felt an urgent need to address these very issues. And I think it’s time for me to read it now.

    I want a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable neighbourhood and city. I don’t know enough yet about all that goes into that. But I think commercial diversity and stability in neighbourhood business districts is a part of this. And limiting the size of London Drugs on Hastings St. is part of that vision.

  16. Brian, thanks for pointing out that the ‘puff’ shop is gone…I keep thinking that the signage is still up for some reason….but the fact it was there, within a block of the elementary school, and seemed to have generated less controversy than a proposed LD is what caught my attention.

    I was born and raised in East Vancouver as well, and Broadway/Commercial was always kind of scuzzy, but didn’t really go bad until the skytrain station went in (there was a nice Italian restuarant that used to be there). They’ve tried to brighten it up with better lighting and some shops, but I still find it kind of creepy.

    I’m not calling new shops opened by newcomers ‘seedy’, what I meant by ‘seedy’ are the pawn shops, questionable businesses(need I mention the former massage parlour above the liquor store?) and their clientelle. To support the geniune businesses that we all want, we need people to come to the area and spend money at these shops.

    And, though I hate to say it, we need people with a greater disposable income to come to East Van/Hastings Street to help support these proposed businesses…not just people in our middle class to lower middle class neighborhood. *ducks for cover* 🙂

    I don’t think there’s enough densification in the neighborhood or enough people with enough disposable income to really support the retail/culture that we want.

    People from all over Vancouver come and visit/shop on West 4th avenue, Commercial Drive, and the Punjabi market on Fraser. Heck, people come from all over just to check out the T&T on First Avenue and the close by Columbus Meat Market (and yes, First Avenue and Renfrew could be better too). But’s what’s the draw on Hastings? There’s no anchor, no sense of identity. LD will not do it by itself, but it can help be the start of it.

    (and each of those neighbourhood shopping districts have chains in their areas.)

  17. i finally have a minute to post. baby is sleeping, and there is some stillness.
    i own the little yoga studio that took over from Puff. Green Room Yoga, and yes it’s true that i am on a short term lease. i have it until July and then will be allowed to proceed on a monthly basis. This is possibly why Teveres decided not to continue on. Not because of raised rents, (as the rent is very attractive because of the lack of security one might get from a long term lease).
    I have heard, (and it is all rumors rumors rumors) that there has been public dialogue about the expansion and that that was why it hasn’t yet happened as there was public opposition to a big box store moving in.
    I can say that when I made inquiries in to leasing my studio space I had a bit of competition for the space, there were others interested, but because I was a yoga studio and not another cheque cashing or pawn shop, they approved me quickly.
    There are some wonderful gems that would or could be affected by the arrival of an IGA, who doesn’t shop at Donalds, or support Ugo and Joes, or get perogies at the Polish deli/bakery.
    And for other reasons to feel we have a blossoming neighborhood, what about Pomegranate Midwifery clinic or the great kids store beside it?
    There are other small and wonderful places like Rondel Cafe, or the Laughing Bean coffee shop. The big box store is not an anchor or answer for a neighborhood, we the residents are by patronizing and supporting these places.
    The big challenge for lots of the little guys is that retail property tax is about 6 times higher than it is for residential places, this is why the big box stores can afford to move in, they have the money behind them.
    must go, baby awakes.

  18. I shop at Donald’s, Como’s, Ugo and Joe’s, Rio’s Friendly Meats and the Wheelhouse Seafood store. If I wanted a big box grocer, I’d drive ten minutes east and go to Safeway. There’s no need for them to wipe out the existing stores when we already have what we need.

  19. I have lived in this area for 35+ years, and I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t a London Drugs on that corner.

    On the corner where The Sweet Tooth Cafe sits, was Cunningham Drugs, Shoppers, and then Pharmasave. Before Donald’s and Como, there was a Safeway where Vancity Credit Union now sits. Where the RBC branch now sits there was a movie theater, that had sat there for 50 years.

    My point is that nothing sits still in this neighbourhood, we may regret some of the changes, but the neighbourhood will still be here, when we have all moved away.

  20. hi all – one of the latest changes, the corner store at Kaslo and Hastings is going out of business after the Shoppers opened a few weeks ago. He said he has lost all of his business since they opened. – Cindy

  21. Hello fellow residents of Hastings Sunrise, I would like to remind everyone that gentrification of our beloved neighborhood is unfortunately inevitable. However, posting rumors about a potential big box grocer moving in or blaming London Drugs for the demise of certain smaller retailers is simply irresponsible. Getting involved with your community will shed some light on facts rather than blogging about fiction. There is no plans for a big box grocer such as IGA. The focus of activist’s in the community should be in eliminating current retailers that have set up faulty store fronts that conduct shady business transactions on a daily basis.

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