Caren McSherry admits that a lot of people thought she was nuts when she decided to move her business, Gourmet Warehouse, to a rundown building on East Hastings Street back in 2004. She’d outgrown her previous spot, but the digs she was eyeing just off Clark Drive weren’t exactly what you’d call coveted.
“When I went to City Hall to get my permit, the guy looked at me and said, ‘I just want to really make sure that you know what you’re doing and if there’s any opportunity to talk you out of it,’ ” McSherry recalls in a phone interview from her store. “He said, ‘This building, this location, has got the worst reputation in the city. It’s been a rave, it’s been a crack house, it’s been a grow-op. Are you sure that you want to do this? You look like such a nice young lady. What are you thinking?’ ”
McSherry was undeterred. Granted, she couldn’t afford to set up a street-front shop in other, more popular Vancouver neighbourhoods. But she saw past the strip’s problems and had confidence in the future of the area surrounding Hastings-Sunrise.
“I didn’t have any money to go anywhere else,” she says. “The city can’t grow anymore to the south because there’s a border. It can’t go anymore to the north because there’s mountains. We can’t go west because there’s water, so you had to have faith that it [East Hastings] is going to change.”
McSherry, who grew up in the neighbourhood and went to Templeton secondary school, took a leap of faith and hasn’t looked back since. More and more people are now turning east to live and work too. Slowly but surely, it seems, the sun is rising on Hastings-Sunrise.
“The change has been amazing,” McSherry says, explaining that a decade ago, she’d regularly find condoms and used needles on her doorstep. “I would look out on any given day, and it was hookers up and down everywhere and johns. It was chronic. I was robbed probably every week.
“Now, it’s becoming an entire neighbourhood of really cool, independent places to shop,” she adds. “It’s a good area. It’s safe; I never feel compromised here. The changes are so drastically good.”
From small businesses to large condo developments, the surge of interest along and around East Hastings Street is remarkable.
Two blocks east of Gourmet Warehouse is the future site of Loblaw’s No Frills grocery store and Millennium Group’s Bohème, a mixed-use building with 24,000 square feet of retail and office space, a restaurant, and 102 residential units. A few blocks west in neighbouring Strathcona is 900 Hastings, a 15-floor mixed-use project with 283 residential units by the Wall Group of Companies. There are other similar projects in the works.
Within Hastings-Sunrise is the East Village, an increasingly vibrant pocket that runs from Commercial Drive to Renfrew Street and where a vast range of small businesses are taking root, often in heritage storefronts. There’s Les Amis du Fromage, a mother-and-daughter-run gourmet cheese shop, and the East Village Bakery, which specializes in vegan and gluten-free baked goods. There are hip new restaurants that regularly see lineups: Red Wagon Diner and its sister restaurant, Bistro Wagon Rouge; Tacofino Commissary; and Campagnolo Roma, to name a few.
Several breweries have popped up in the area, which some have dubbed “Vancouver’s Brewery District”: Powell Street Craft Brewery, Coal Harbour Brewing Company, Storm Brewing, and Parallel 49 Brewing Company.
Then there are spots that go way back: Donald’s Market, an independent grocery store; On Lok Restaurant and Won-Tun House; and the Laughing Bean Coffee Co., not to mention several pho, Chinese, and sushi restaurants, Italian bakeries, and countless other cafés, shops, and services,
All this in a neighbourhood with real history. The New Brighton Park area was a popular beach hangout for loggers and miners in the mid to late 1800s. The area was named Hastings Townsite in 1869 after Admiral G. F. Hastings. Hastings Townsite joined the City of Vancouver in 1911 and was developed for residential use in the 1920s.
Now, Hastings-Sunrise is experiencing a rebirth. Some people are attracted by its character, with colourful heritage homes along streets like Trinity and Triumph drawing homebuyers’ eyes. Others like the area’s convenience: it’s walking distance to downtown, Chinatown, Gastown, Commercial Drive, and Trout Lake. It offers easy access to Highway 1. It’s near the SeaBus, SkyTrain, and seaplane terminals. There are bus routes on East Hastings, and nearby bike routes.
“It’s a crossroads,” says Ryan Spong, who opened the Tacofino Commissary just west of Nanaimo Street with partners Kael Robinson and executive chef Jason Sussman in 2012. The restaurant, which grew out of the hugely popular food trucks of the same name, gets equal parts walk-in customers who live in the area—including many young couples and families—and clientele from throughout Metro Vancouver.
“We have people coming in from all over the place,” Spong says. “One of the great things about the neighbourhood is that it’s really easy to access from North Van, so we get a lot of folks come over who want to check us out or they’re on their way to a Giants game. We get people coming in from the Valley on their way to a hockey game. We get people heading both ways.”
Spong admits that parking around the restaurant can be challenging, but that hasn’t been a barrier to the restaurant’s success.
“My partners were living in the neighbourhood [before the commissary came to be], and we just fell in love with it,” he says. “It’s so great to be part of this community. We’ve had a really warm reception from the community.”
Brad Miller lives and works in Hastings-Sunrise. The chef-owner of the Red Wagon Restaurant and Bistro Wagon Rouge started hanging out in the area several years ago.
“I fell in love with the neighbourhood,” Miller says. “It’s multicultural. It’s an eclectic neighbourhood, and that’s why I like it. It’s so vibrant and energetic. It felt like something was happening.”
Miller didn’t have any concerns whatsoever about opening his first restaurant, Red Wagon, there in 2010, and business has exceeded all expectations.
“It really took off,” he says. “Having Donald’s nearby helps. I’m looking forward to being here for many years to come.”
Developers have picked up on the area’s burgeoning popularity, even if some are moving ahead cautiously. Hastings Sunrise Development Limited (a subsidiary of H. Y. Louie Co. Ltd.), which is behind the mixed-use Alba development in the 2500 block of East Hastings Street, voluntarily pulled condos from the market about a year ago, waiting for market conditions to improve. Allan De Genova of Focus Real Estate Marketing says the group is expected to consider reintroducing units within the next year or so. The Alba will have 85 to 100 homes, as well as some medical offices, and will take up two-thirds of a city block, with London Drugs as its retail anchor.
“Our client is all about quality and value and wasn’t apt to give away cars and other goodies developers are offering to try to create a sale,” De Genova says. “We’ll be excited to come back in the very near future. Hastings-Sunrise has become the place to be. You can see it from Clark all the way up to Renfrew.”
Millennium Group is now selling units at Bohème in the 1500 block of East Hastings, with “junior one-bedrooms” starting at $229,900.
“The Bohème site was specifically chosen because of its vibrant, convenient, and contemporary location,” says project manager Adam Nour. “Bohème’s location and neighbourhood mimic the early days of Yaletown: the next hip, affordable place to live within minutes of the downtown core.
“We have first-time buyers that do not want to move out of the city to the burbs,” he adds. “We have investors that see the value and are confident their purchase will bring them solid returns, and we have neighbours that love the area and want to be among the first to own.”
The Airey Group has a project coming at 2141 East Hastings that’s currently going through the design and approvals process. “We think that the rest of Vancouver is starting to find out what the residents who’ve been living there already know: that it is a great neighbourhood,” says Airey’s vice president of development, Robert Cadez.
Meanwhile, Solterra bought the Waldorf Hotel site, while Onni has purchased the former home of the Brave Bull’s House of Steaks on East Hastings at Clark. Plans for these projects haven’t been disclosed. (Both companies declined interview requests.)
The tired orange-and-black awnings that used to adorn the Brave Bull’s have been replaced by the baby blue and lemon yellow of Yolk’s Restaurant and Commissary, another eatery that’s grown out of a food truck, which has been leasing the spot for over a year. Chef-owner Steven Ewing explains that his only hesitation about running a business there was the nearby construction on Powell Street. But just like other new restaurant owners in the ’hood, he’s been overjoyed by the response.
“We’ve been flat-out busy,” he says, admitting that opening weekend proved overwhelming. “The following week I closed for two days and did major work on the systems and got our act together. Since then I have virtually redone the kitchen with a bunch of new equipment. We’ve added 40 seats and tripled our staff. We’re doing more than 300 covers every weekend day.
“Many of my friends live in the area, and it’s my stomping ground,” he adds. “I love what’s happening to the East Village area with all of the interesting eateries.”
Caren McSherry was clearly onto something when she opened the doors to Gourmet Warehouse a decade ago.
“I took a chance on the neighbourhood and I’ve watched it change over the years all for the better,” she says. “There are lots of good things and lots of good things coming.”