Granville’s changing look not likely to kill its ‘street-with-edge image – doc.

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

‘It’s important that diversity and eclectic uses remain,’ developer Kerry Bonnis says

Frances Bula


CREDIT: Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

Downtown Granville is expected to keep its edgy side during redevelopment of three of its key blocks by D. Bonnis & Sons Ltd.

CREDIT: Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

The Lennox pub is one of Granville Street’s new businesses.

CREDIT: Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

Next to be developed is Bonnis-owned land next to its Commodore site.

CREDIT: Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

Panhandlers are regular presences along Granville Street even as redevelopment brings new business into some blocks.


VANCOUVER – Is downtown Granville Street — once the commercial heart of the city and, for the past 40 years, its grungy, alternative sore spot — about to transform itself into another Robson Street?

The reigning King of Granville says no.

Yes, the street is changing, says Kerry Bonnis, whose family company, D. Bonnis & Sons Ltd., owns more than half of the east side of three key blocks and who has recently doubled the rents for some properties.

But, says the man driving much of the change, he wants Granville to hold on to the personality it has now: The street with an edge, where the shops stay open after others lock their doors, and there’s a mix of everyone from pierced-nose skateboarders to clubgoers to families out for a movie.

“Robson is more or less a shopping mall with traffic running through it,” says Bonnis, who owns, with his brother Dino, a total of 221 metres in the 700, 800 and 900 blocks of Granville.

“For us, it’s important that diversity and eclectic uses remain, provided they adapt to the changing needs of consumers. We want to keep some of the edge.”

Granville’s future is what everyone is wondering about these days, as longtime businesses are shutting down or struggling, while newcomers flourish, and rumours swirl about the billion-dollar retailers that Bonnis says are about to move in.

Bonnis won’t say yet who they are, but he stressed he’s looking for businesses that complement what is already on the street.

The street started to change five years ago when the Bonnises, defying conventional wisdom that Granville had been ruined by its 1970s transformation into a mall and wasn’t worth investing in until cars were allowed back in, bought more than half of the 700 block. They constructed a building that now holds a wildly successful Future Shop and Winners.

Now the company has started construction on its 900-block property and is about to redevelop another chunk of land, next to its Commodore site, on the 800 block.

The momentum picked up recently with the announcement that the Capitol 6 theatre will be transformed into a residential tower on the Seymour side and a new retail space on its Granville front.

Longtime retailers like the Leather Shop and Cheap Thrills are gone or shutting down, while the venerable Granville Books — where late-night moviegoers have for the past 20 years been able to pick up the latest in science fiction or high-end literature until 11 p.m. — is hanging on until its lease expires next year.

Granville Books co-owner Bob Cole says the bookstore was hit hard by the bus strike in 2001 and then by the gradual disappearance of movie theatres, which brought all-day crowds to the street. They were replaced by clubs that don’t pull people on to the street until late evening.

He doesn’t see how it could survive the kind of rent hikes others are facing.

At Cheap Thrills, which specializes in funky, offbeat clothes and novelties, the increase was 100 per cent, to $14,000 from just under $7,000.

“We could probably make it at $8,000. We’re not big enough to pay $14,000 and we just can’t find another street that will work,” says owner Shellina Visram. So she decided to close and sell through the Web instead.

But others who have moved in say they see nothing but a glowing future for Granville.

Underworld, a Montreal-based company that sells skateboard-style shoes and clothes, opened in November and its owner has been amazed by its success.

“I’m a huge fan of Granville over Robson,” says Alex Bastide. “And we’re going to be way more edgy.”

Stores like Golden Age Collectibles, David Gordon Shoes and Fluevog Shoes are all planning to stay.

Retail consultant Blake Hudema says he sees Granville becoming more like West Broadway, which serves residents and regional destination shoppers more than tourists, the way Robson does.

That’s feasible now because of the huge residential boom that Vancouver encouraged on the side streets around Granville, said Hudema.

“The Bonnises’s brilliance was recognizing early on that there was that residential market in the area.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

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