Say it ain’t so, Starbucks

I had the pleasure of being driven around Vancouver’s West End on Monday afternoon when my Vancouver host, Barbara Tyson, mentioned that she too had once lived in the neighbourhood. Over lunch at The Jericho Beach Sailing Club we gazed across the shimmering waters of Burrard Inlet and reminisced about our days in the West End. “Hey, we should go check out our old haunts,” said Barb. I didn’t take much arm twisting.

Although Barb didn’t move to Vancouver until after I had left town, our old apartments were just a few blocks apart and we both have fond memories of that time in our lives.

I moved from Langley to the West End in 1987 and stayed until 1990 when I had little choice but move back to Ontario. I would not have left had my company been in a stronger position. We had a contract with the lone harness track in BC (which was owned and operated by a World Class negotiator) vs. nine contracts in Ontario and plenty of room for growth.

I haven’t been back to Vancouver since that Spring day in 1990 when I slammed the back door on a U-Haul truck and hit the Trans-Canada eastbound. I knew from the day I left that if I were to return for a visit it would be very tough to leave. It was just easier to block Vancouver from my memory and concentrate on a career and business in Ontario.

Barb quickly found the Victorian-era house where she once rented a huge third floor apartment that had formerly been home to several working girls. There was somewhat less traffic on those three flights of stairs once Barb moved in.

Although I didn’t remember the exact address of “The Florida”, it didn’t take long to find it at 1177 Barclay. The Building and grounds aren’t quite as well maintained as I remember, yet it’s still a reasonably classy building considering that it has been a rental since it was built in 1926.

I loved the fireplace, hardwood floors, french doors with bevelled glass, vintage Murphy bed, and maybe most of all the medicine cabinet-sized pass-thru between the public hallway and my kitchen. Security was less of a concern in 1926 when the milkman would leave a bottle of 2% and a pint of cream in the space every second or third morning.

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I returned to the old ’hood again this morning (Wednesday) and set out for the corner of Robson and Thurlow. Back in 1988 I fell in love with a little take-out coffee shop that had just opened on this corner. The Seattle-based company that ran the cafe had been in business since 1971 when it opened as Pequod’s. By 1986 they had grown to six locations, all in Seattle. By 1987 the fledgling chain had changed it’s name and opened its first location outside Seattle at Waterfront Station in Vancouver. A year later the Robson and Thurlow store opened. Of course we’re talking about Starbucks. I was at the Robson and Thurlow store on opening day and I was hooked from the first cup. A daily “Grande Bold” has been my vice ever since.

It’s safe to say that if it weren’t for some SBUX stock that I bought in the 1990s, I wouldn’t be taking this trip (literally and figuratively).

After doing some banking at the main TD branch, I walked west on Robson in search of the old café. You can imagine my disappointment when I found the windows papered over and only a faint shadow of the green mermaid that once graced the corner.

A Google search revealed that the iconic store closed in 2012 when Starbucks failed to negotiate a lease extension. According to a CBC report at the time, the property manager wanted to be able to evict Starbucks with one-month’s notice if it decided to demolish the building and redevelop the site. And since rents in this neck of the woods are up to $250 per square foot (per year), or $375,000 a year for a 1,500-square-foot space, Starbucks opted to close the location after 24 years.

Thankfully the latte-swilling crowd didn’t have far to go to get their fix. “My” Starbucks was one-half of what a few years later came to be known as Kitty-Corner Starbucks. Thankfully the cafe that has occupied the northeast corner of the same intersection for the past 23 years was still serving customers at a rate of about 8 a minute when I visited earlier today.

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Above: The now vacant location that Starbucks occupied for 24 years on the south-west corner of Robson and Thurlow as seen from the 23-year-old location on the north-east corner.

Below: What remains of Kitty-Corner Starbucks. It’s a real inconvenience to have to cross the street for a Grande Bold but I guess I can justify it if the company saves $375,000 a year in rent.

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