Small businesses make Fraser Street soar

Originally published in the Vancouver Courier.

It has been more than 12 years since my family and I put down roots just off Fraser Street in the Mountain View neighbourhood, which took its name from the nearby cemetery. During this time we have watched the area become more desirable, and local property values grow precipitously.

In 2014, the assessed price of detached homes in our area rose faster than in almost any community in Metro Vancouver — an astounding 20 per cent.

A debate continues to rage on what is pushing the region’s real estate prices into the stratosphere, but what in particular is driving buyers’ interest in Fraser Street? It cannot be home prices alone.

There are surely prettier streets than ours in other neighbourhoods. The houses here are a hodgepodge of designs from the past 100 years of Vancouver home styles. Local park space, though terrifically popular, is in limited supply. Public amenities such as pools or community centres are not within walking distance.

While I like to think we are a friendly community, we are probably indistinguishable from other areas of the city in this regard. Yes, we hold a few block parties — particularly this time of year — but those gatherings are not what give Mountain View its mojo.

Urban planners like to deconstruct what makes a great neighbourhood, and they get much of it right. Bus routes on Fraser Street and East King Edward Avenue provide respectable public transportation, for example. And our boulevard trees provide some comforting green canopy.

However, some of those characteristics planners like — such as pleasing features in the area’s architecture — simply do not exist here. With the exception of the cemetery, you will have to go to a website ( to locate any vestiges of Fraser Street’s beginnings.

Real estate here is in high demand mostly because of the area’s compelling, walkable shopping and services. What we used to look for in other parts of the city — such as a grocery store or a café — is now practically at our doorstep.

Since it opened in 2011, Dean’s No Frills grocery store at the corner of East 29th Avenue has been transformative for this community. Household staples that used to require a trip by car are steps away for residents in hundreds of nearby homes and apartment dwellers in the condo development beside it.

IMG_2226Setting up a storefront in a retail district that has seen better days is a big leap of faith. Thankfully homegrown caffeine slingers JJ Bean Coffee Roasters saw fit to open a store at East 27th Avenue in 2013.

In mere weeks Prado — a personal coffee shop favourite — will open its third Vancouver store below a newly completed rental building at East 26th.

Fraser Street will always be compared with Main Street to the west, with its 20-plus contiguous blocks of retail shops, hip restaurants and speakeasies. It may never resemble Main, but Fraser Street has attracted some popular places for dining and desserts — such as Graze Restaurant, Pizza Carano, Grand View Szechuan, Matchstick Coffee Roasters and the brand new Masayoshi Sushi Bar.

If you want a table at French bistro Les Faux Bourgeois, then get ready to queue up. The same goes for breakfast at Jethro’s Fine Grub, or for a scoop of the salted caramel flavour at Earnest Ice Cream on a sunny afternoon.

For fine baked goods you can visit Sweet Salt, Merienda Bakery, European Breads or the elegant Bâtard Boulangerie.

Another popular gathering spot is Le Marche St. George, where the proprietor and an enterprising winemaker next door have planted wine grapes on the boulevards outside the shop.

The area’s retail evolution also includes many new health and wellness options, including East Side Fitness, Vancouver Mind-Body Centre, The Yoga Studio and Urban Healing massage therapy.

Every one of these small businesses, much to our delight, has hung their shingle since we arrived here in 2003, and more are sure to arrive over time.

I can even foresee a time when I can order a pint of craft beer or a glass of B.C.’s best wine just down the street. Hey, if they can put a man on the moon…

Vancouver is proudly a city of neighbourhoods. Ours is immeasurably improved by the storefronts that are just steps away.