Homeless in Vancouver: Farewell to a few more West Broadway businesses, including Kalamata Greek Taverna

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      The entire glass front of the Kalamata Greek Taverna, the little restaurant located at 1481 West Broadway, is entirely covered over with butcher’s paper. The “Closed” sign has been hung beside the entrance since the end of August.

      Under the sign is a hand-written note on white letter-size paper, taped to the inside of the floor-to-ceiling glass beside the door.

      All week, passers-by have been stopping to read what it says.

      Another sign of the times on West Broadway

      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      What the note beside the door says is this:

      “To our valued customers

      Kalamata is now permanently closed. It will re-open soon under new ownership as the Breakfast Table.

      We thank you for your business for all these years.

      We will miss you.”

      That’s it. Not relocating. Not going somewhere else. Kalamata is just going out of business after 27 years. And just days after the 58-year-old Mayfair News closed its doors for good, next door in the 1500 block of West Broadway.

      It’s sad anywhere, I think, to see long-time local businesses cease to be. And here in Vancouver it’s hard not to remember—particularly when losing small family businesses—that “cease” rhymes with both “lease” and “increase”.

      Just across the street from the former location of the Kalamata, a lease increase appears to be behind both tenants of the little two-storey building at 1448 West Broadway skedaddling by the end of August.

      I never had a chance to speak with the people that ran the second floor suntan parlour but I did buttonhole one gentleman from the ground floor rug shop as he piled stuff into a truck and a car.

      He had a close-mouthed and stoic mien when I saw him but he did tell me succinctly that after eight years in the 1400 block the business had to move. And no, he said, he did not have a new location.

      Both empty floors of 1448 West Broadway are up for lease.

      Whether a lease had anything to do with the Kalamata going under I cannot say. The woman who owned Mayfair News was telling customers in the week before she closed that her lease was reasonable enough; she just wanted to retire and couldn’t find  anyone to take over the business.

      But in the case of all three locations, the new retail tenants will almost certainly be paying a higher lease than their predecessors.

      And I think it’s fair to say that the higher the lease the harder it is for single-location local business to survive long enough to thrive. Higher leases shift the playing field in favour of large chains, which have pre-existing brand recognition, a carefully bland product, and the ability to distribute profits to support under-performing new locations.

      Which is to say that I think the deck is stacked against the new restaurant coming to 1481 West Broadway. I’ll certainly give it a try and I wish the proprietors the very best of luck.

      Buy local, think local, and f**k global?

      Kalamata at its 388 West Broadway address.
      Google street view

      On one level, it seems ironic to speak dismissively of globalization while decrying the loss of a Greek restaurant but it isn’t, not really. Immigration isn’t globalization, it’s actually one of Canada’s oldest local traditions.

      Immigration has been vital to the life of Canada in every possible way, including our way of eating—allowing us to enjoy a truly world-class diet.

      Had we just sat around waited for restaurants that served nothing but real Canadian cuisine, I believe that we would have all perished from hunger (or at least starch poisoning) long ago.

      Kalamata was an authentic Greek restaurant run by a Greek-Canadian family, which first opened for business in 1989 at 338 West Broadway. The awning of the original location appears to have advertised “Southern Greek Home Cooking”.

      Don’t quote me but I think that the restaurant relocated the 11 blocks (or about 1.9 km) west to the 1400 block location in 2012.

      I’m certainly not a connoisseur of Greek food but twice in 2014 I had takeaway from Kalamata and thought it very good indeed.

      More than missing the cuisine, I’ll be sad to to see the South Granville area lose another small, locally owed, family business.

      Likewise, I was sad to see the family-owned Normandy Restaurant close up shop at 2675 Granville Street back in 2005—pushed by an unfortunate kitchen fire but slated to close anyway, due to skyrocketing leases. Or McKinnon’s Bakery, the two grocery stores, and Jackson Meats that were also gone from South Granville by around 2005.

      All five of these independent local business have been replaced on South Granville by regional, national or multinational chain stores.

      What I especially miss about small, locally owned businesses is their independent spirit, their individuality, the quality of their service, and the more intangible sense of community and continuity which they contribute to a neighbourhood.

      I do not believe that extraterritorial chain stores contribute very much of the above to a neighbourhood and I suppose that it wasn’t until I was well into my 30s that I even thought of small locally owned stores of having a cultural role in neighbourhoods.

      But better late than never. I now see that they do and I note the loss of each local business sadly—as a slight diminishing of the quality that makes a neighbourhood a neighbourhood. Just as I see the chain store which replaces a local store as something of an invasive commercial species.

      I’m certainly not the first person to notice that globalization has effectively made multinational corporations a new colonizing power in the world.

      The question is what, besides shopping local, is there to do about it?

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.