Saturday, June 4, 2016

Lonely street

It's easy to photograph Dunbar Street on a Saturday afternoon without catching any pedestrians.

This produce store has picked up business after Stong's closed a few blocks away.

The old Stong's site is empty of all the shoppers who once kept its parking lot hopping.

This was the site of an old-fashioned bakery that later reopened as the Butter bakery. It soon moved elsewhere.
Raise rents for businesses while cutting the local population, and the result is what's happening to my little Dunbar shopping area, according to a University of B.C. professor. "Dunbar is a poster child for what can go wrong to a once-thriving neighbourhood," Patrick M. Condon, chair of UBC's Master of Urban Design Programs, says in a Saturday story in The Vancouver Sun. The story deals with the city-wide phenomenon of small independent businesses being forced out by higher rents as older commercial buildings are torn down and replaced by shiny new ones. But exacerbating the problem in some areas, including Dunbar, is the increasing number of vacant houses, which means fewer locals to patronize whatever businesses do exist. "There's quite a few vacancies there which are a consequence of hyper-investment and an absolute decline of population," Condon said of the Dunbar shopping area. He said Main Street was once floundering too, but is now  thriving thanks to a younger demographic moving in, good transit and the fact that most buildings are occupied. Thinking about this, I walked up to Dunbar Saturday afternoon to have a look. The last word that came to mind was "thriving." The block where Stong's and a long-time autobody shop once drew a steady stream of customers is desolate behind green fencing, awaiting the bulldozers. Also empty of people is the block where the new Stong's and a condominium development are under construction. Elsewhere, there are a few papered-over windows, but mainly what struck me was the lack of people, either inside the businesses or outside on the street. I've noticed that in the last few years, the type of businesses opening on Dunbar seems to have changed. Hair salons and martial arts studios have sprung up like dandelions; the key seems to be that no big investment is required. They could move elsewhere in a day, a fact that doesn't exactly create a vibrant, stable shopping environment. So far, the key businesses I use -- the produce store, the drugstore, the veterinarian, the bank --  have survived on Dunbar. But especially after my view of it on Saturday, I realize that it is beginning to look  like a very lonely street indeed.

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