Published in Fernwood News (Victoria), 21 October 2007
Against the backdrop of rising land values and a booming village centre, half of Fernwood’s corner stores have disappeared in recent years. Is this a sign of gentrification?
Since 2004, the following small retailers – all operated by Chinese-Canadian families – have closed their doors:
- Wall’s Food Market (Fernwood at Bay)
- Gladstone Noodle House and Grocery (Gladstone beside Fernwood Inn)
- Cook Street Grocery (Cook at Pembroke)
- May’s Grocery (Chambers at Princess)
Three established stores and a new one – Mom’s Market – remain open:
- Lum’s Grocery (Begbie at Stanley)
- Arcade Grocery (Pandora at Camosun)
- Bay Grocery (at Shakespeare)
- Mom’s Market (formerly Gladstone Market; Gladstone at Stanley)
The loss of small retail is not confined to Fernwood. Communities across North America grapple with “Walmartization” and the impact of soaring land values on businesses operating on razor-thin margins. Chinese-run corner stores have historically provided employment and housing for recent immigrants. They offer self-sufficiency irrespective of language aptitude, and often serve as conduits to other fields of work.
In Oak Bay and neighbourhoods near and far, the closure of Chinese-run corner stores was a bellwether of gentrification. Block by block, diversity and eclectic neighbourhood features gave way to a homogenous urban form. Only recently has the clarion call of “smart growth” and the waning of automobile culture resuscitated neighbourhood-level services.
Fernwood’s future is not yet written. Vitality in our core and periphery give reason for hope. Haultain Village features the twin retailers Haultain Grocery and Adam’s Food Fair; Oak Bay Junction offers Stadacona Grocery and Freddie’s Flowers; and Wellburn’s Market soldiers on at the corner of Pandora and Cook.
But for the late-night crowd, it’s a corporate-only affair: Husky, Mac’s, and the soon-to-open (cringe) Shell Oil Convenience Mart at Fernwood and Yates.
The fate of Fernwood’s small retailers is in our hands. Hopefully, in the headlong rush to become a “destination” “have” neighbourhood, Fernwood doesn’t abandon those homey, eclectic features that drew us here in the first place. To quote Joni Mitchell’s wise words, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”