Main, or SoMa, as savvy locals have dubbed the area around Main
and Broadway, is the story of a bad-ass neighbourhood that dragged
itself out of the gutter and made goodor at least made probation.
Fifteen years ago it was the frightening mainline artery through
Mount Pleasant, an area reviled for its mix of drugs and sex for
rent. But today, a relaxed kind of gentrification has given rise
to the sort of local hangouts (such as funky granddaddy The Whip
Gallery Restaurant and newbie vegetarian eatery Foundation) that
make a neighbourhood feel like home.
with a booming real estate market (prices have doubled in the last
eight years), and interesting new developments in store, SoMa has
gone from being the Next Big Thingattracting brave first-time
owners with low pricesto something of a sure bet. The 1990s
saw more than 700 new artist lofts spring up. But theres still
room for improvementamidst the remaining pawn shops, residents
are fiercely debating what sort of neighbourhood South Main ought
the heart of it all, at Number One Kingsway, lies a giant hole in
the ground. Plans are afoot to make the hole the soul of the neighbourhood,
by building in its place the Mount Pleasant Community Centre and
Library, which is scheduled to open in 2004. Substantial new commercial
development is also at least a few years away, city planners say;
thats the natural progression of emerging residential areas.
driving force behind SoMas revitalization so far is Jonathan
Kerridge, local pioneer and co-founder of a triad of neighbourhood
hotspots (the aforementioned Whip, as well as Soma Coffee House
and Monsoon restaurant). He happily takes credit for applying the
South Main designation to the Main-and-Broadway zone (officials
consider it to be the more established area around Main and 41st)and
even took it one step farther, by inventing the neighbourhoods
NYC-chic nickname. This place is on its way up,
says. He predicts his stomping ground will have its own distinct
identity within the next five years. Kerridge envisions a unique
hybrid of South Granville and Commercial Drive. But there are competing
dreams. There are those in the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement
Association who are very excited about a planned 30-percent expansion
of Kingsgate Mall, with office-supply chain Staples as a potential
tenant. They also think that a restaurant like Bread Garden is something
the community desperately needs, as brand names will reassure timid
Vancouverites who associate Mount Pleasant more with muggings than
Morris, a local realtor who depends on the neighbourhoods
unique style for his livelihood, is offended by the very idea. He
sees South Main as a much-needed alternative to a downtown/Gap
mentality. The last thing he wants is a new Kitsilano for
yuppies to colonizehe says he isnt interested in selling
pink and grey little things with wallpaper borders.
Nor does he care for the luxuries of downtown apartments. His live/work
spaces are basic concrete and steel boxes. The idea works: people
have been snapping them up.
years ago this area was at the end of its economic life, he
says. Tired and worn out. Hos and trannies. Really nasty.
Now its on the verge of something big. I smell it between
Main and Cambie, he continues, sipping an espresso on a couch
at Soma. Theres business there, theres people
course, not everyone is happy with a trend seemingly driven by real-estate
speculators. I dont even know anyone who calls this
place SoMa, says Billeh Nickerson, a poet who lives in the
Lee Building on the corner of Main and Broadway. Theyre
just trying to make it sound like New York. Its embarrassing.
What hed like to see is an area thats mature and diverse
enough to embrace its roots. I wish people would just call
it Mount Pleasant. Yes, it used to be seedy. But get over it.
the moment, South Main hovers in the vortex between west and east
side. But the wind is not blowing in favour of the pawn shops and
their dubious kin, such as the Fox Cinema (North Americas
last 35-millimetre porn theatre). Earlier this year, the Foxs
new owners, perhaps hearing their own death knell, tried to lure
in arty patrons by screening alternative, non-porn movies on weekends.
Sales were not good. After all, who wants to take their date to
the same theatre where the night before some dirty little man ogled
the lovelies in Deep Throat? Perhaps what they really need is a
thorough carpet cleaning, an end to the nudie flicks altogether,
and intellectual post-screening discussion groups.
maybe the city can turn the Fox into a historical sitea monument
to what South Main once was, but is no longer.
read the rest of this Story pick up the current issue of Vancouver
magazine at your local newstand today.