Main Street named one of North America's 'coolest streets'

When Nigel Pike opened his first restaurant called Habit on Main Street about 10 years ago, he recalled one of his first customers asking if it was safe to park his car on the street right out front.

“I said, uh, sure?” recalled Pike, who now owns the Main Street Brewery and several eateries in the Main Street area, crowned one of the “coolest streets” on the continent by Cushman and Wakefield.

The street landed among the top 15 “coolest streets” in North America, and only one of two in Canada (along with Toronto’s West Queen West).

Main Street, with its independent shops and eateries, was assigned the “up and coming” designation on the study’s “Hip-O-Metre,” which measures an area’s development stage, livability, “retail flavour,” demographics (about 30 per cent under the age of 35), percentage of renters (56) and university graduates (77). It also assessed residential and commercial rents, the latter being $20 to $43 per square foot.

The report noted that the Mt. Pleasant area’s shift from “working class to arts district” started 20 years ago and has been “on steroids” for the past five years, especially at Main and Broadway.

Pike said when he immigrated from England, he gravitated toward Main Street, which at the time was “a little sketchy”.

“We saw the potential evolution of what it was at the time and what it would become. It felt a little more friendly and was different from Vancouver. The people were supportive.”

He said business rents are pushing $40 to $50 per square foot these days, but the independent shops that make it special aren’t being charged more because the buildings they occupy haven’t been upgraded.

“It’s definitely not like Robson Street,” said Pike.

He was told before setting up the first of several restaurants 10 years ago that census figures showed 50 per cent of the population was between 30 and 50 years old, “a great demographic for restaurants.”

“It’s always been a neighbourhood with heart because of its selection of eclectic and novel shops,” said Lynn Warwick of the Mt. Pleasant Business Improvement Association.

The transformation was relatively swift and she could recall in 1997 “it was hard to find something to eat” in the area.

Mainstream recognition can be the kiss of death for hipster hangouts, and Mike Wiebe, owner of the restaurant 8 1/2 and member of the MPBIA as well as Vancouver Park Board commissioner, said he worries that Main Street could become another 4th Avenue in Kitsilano, which he said has lost its charm with development.

“We welcome the accolades, but it’s worrying for people who live here because we don’t want to see it change,” he said. “The small artists’ shops and the restaurants with 20, 30 or 40 seats is what makes it special. People do cherish their hidden gems, and suddenly they’re not so hidden.”

He said the BIA is encouraging developers to keep square footage of new buildings small. Local businesses are posting signs reminding customers of the heritage of the 100-year-old neighbourhood, and current locals like to talk about the history of previous owners and tenants to keep their stories alive.

When one hip street becomes mainstream, another usually takes its place. But right now, there are no obvious successors to Main, said Pike.

“Maybe Victoria or Fraser streets,” he said. “But property is hard to find there. I looked. Where Kingsway hits Fraser is where some places are opening up.”

Other “cool” Canadian streets mentioned in the study included: Kensington Village and Distillery Historic District, both in Toronto; The Plateau, Mile End, Little Italy in Montreal; Westboro, Hintonburg in Ottawa; and Old Strathcona/Whyte Avenue in Edmonton.

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