In the market for a yoga mat? Snowboarding jacket? Wetsuit? Perhaps a fringe bikini? Or maybe some new thermal underwear? Well, then West 4th Avenue’s got you covered. The Kits retail strip that stretches from Vine to Fir Street is pretty much the epicentre of active wear in Vancouver—always has been and probably always will be.
But there’s more to this iconic street than just West Coast lifestyle stores. With several stylish clothing boutiques setting up shop within the last year or so, the area is fast becoming a trend-driven shopping mecca. That’s something Michael Gorenstein has seen firsthand. He and his siblings opened their store, moulé, in 1995. He’s witnessed how the neighbourhood has evolved over the years. He can still recall what West 4th had to offer in terms of fashion when his shop first moved into its present location (1994 West 4th Avenue).
“I would say ‘nothing’,” says Gorenstein, who gave the Straight a tour of his carefully curated clothing and giftware concept store. “This was pre-everything. When we were here, I feel like there were still people in floral skirts smoking pot. It was just coming out of the hippie-phase era of Kits. So there wasn’t a lot here.”
Of course, all that started to change once gravitypope (2205 West 4th Avenue) came along in 2004—no doubt a watershed moment for many shoe lovers, as it marked the end of trying to live within their budgets. Damn you, Italian craftsmanship! But seriously, many credit gravitypope for drawing a lot of destination shoppers to West 4th.
It was also around this time that Spank opened its West 4th location (2066 West 4th Avenue). And for a while, those three stores were holding down the fashion fort. Eventually, though, they created enough shopping traffic that heavy hitters like Urban Outfitters began to see the potential of this ’hood. The fast-fashion chain store opened its doors at 2199 West 4th Avenue just over a year ago.
That led tiny upstarts like c. by chelsea to follow suit. This lovely indie clothing boutique, which opened for business at 1834 West 4th Avenue around six months ago, has a little something for everyone. At the back is a whole party-dress selection—the fitted, high-collar, Mad Men–inspired lace numbers in vibrant fuchsia and emerald green are the standouts here ($168). But the shop also has an ultra-feminine section where you can get your “Gold Dust Woman” groove on with a billowy, sheer, Champagne-coloured embroidered tunic ($59). And for the edgy girl, there are several pieces that boast fierce hardware embellishments, rock ’n’ roll fringe detailing, and ’80s paint splatter.
Another great indie store worth checking out is Leo Boutique (2072 West 4th Avenue), which carries a wide range of distinguished domestic and international labels. There, you’ll find standout designs like the Tiger of Sweden hand-painted orange, fuchsia, and red maxi dress with a twisted racerback ($400).
“I’d say this is quintessential Leo just because we tend to have pieces that you wouldn’t normally find anywhere else,” says Leo sales associate Hayley MacKenzie. “A lot of people may think this palette clashes, but we’re looking for just really unique, visually stunning pieces.”
So how does Gorenstein feel about sharing the spotlight with all these up-and-comers? Pretty good, actually,
“It’s nice to see the resurgence of some small boutiques here,” he says. “The more fashion we get on this street, the better.”