East side neighbourhood beats business drum

Made-in-Strathcona initiative aimed at promoting area’s enterprising upsides
Homesteader’s Emporium owner Rick Havlak: “it was the most centrally accessible location that had reasonable rent that I could afford”

As one might expect of an industrial district, Strathcona on Vancouver's east side has scrap dealers, a couple of sheet metal shops and about 100 manufacturers.

But you might be surprised to also find fashion designers here, including Aritzia, which is headquartered in Strathcona, and Christine Lingerie. And until its relocation to Mount Pleasant last year, it was also where HootSuite – Vancouver's high-tech darling – got its start.

It's these “hidden gems” that the Strathcona Business Improvement Association (SBIA) has been showing off with its Made-in-Strathcona tours. The idea is to showcase Strathcona as a good place to open a business.

“What we want to do is highlight some of the light industry and the manufacturers and the makers that are in this area of Vancouver … and to highlight the area as a place where new businesses are setting up shop,” said Toby Barazzuol, founder and president of Eclipse Awards and SBIA chairman.

The Strathcona district runs west to east from Main Street to Clark Drive, and north to south from the waterfront to Malkin Avenue.

There are roughly 500 businesses in the SBIA – from name-brand stores like Aritzia, which has 60 stores throughout North America, and Herschel Supply to JJ Bean coffee roasters and Endeavour Snowboards.

To draw attention to some of the district's unique businesses, the SBIA held its first Made-in-Strathcona tour on May 31 and is scheduled to hold another on June 7. Barazzuol said the tours, which cost $10, will be of interest to anyone considering opening a new business or relocating an existing one.

Much of Strathcona is zoned for industrial and light industrial use, so it's attractive to manufacturers.

“It's really the last area of industrial lands in Vancouver,” Barazzuol said. “The building stock here is suited toward light industrial, so you have warehouse spaces and things that can be used for light industrial manufacturing.”

But the district also appeals to creative businesses.

“It seems to appeal to people who are creative and want something that's outside of the mainstream,” Barazzuol said.

When Christine Morton of Christine Lingerie was forced to move from the North Shore, after 15 years in the same location, she settled on the Strathcona district.

With its reputation for homelessness, drugs and crime, East Vancouver might seem an odd place to locate a high-end lingerie design company.

But as Morton discovered, Strathcona district has been going through a SoHo-type transformation that has been attracting creative businesses, funky boutiques and a variety of new eateries.

“You walk a couple of blocks in any direction, and you get these really interesting restaurants,” Morton said.

One of the advantages of the location is that it is in the same district as the factory that does some of her company's work. She also found the rents quite reasonable.

“For me the rent was considerably less than the North Shore,” Morton said.

The relatively low rents were also what drew Rick Havlak to Strathcona when he opened Homesteader's Emporium last year.

Havlak's business caters to urban farmers and locavores who bake their own bread and make their own cheese. He sells urban chicken coops and feeders, pickling and jam jars – even beehives and beekeeping suits.

“It was the most centrally accessible location that had reasonable rent that I could afford,” Havlak said.

“Although there's not yet a huge commercial street shopping district, there is a lot of residential so there's a local customer base. But more importantly for me – because I'm a destination store – it's very easy to get to Strathcona from almost anywhere in the Lower Mainland.

“I was able to lease a 1,700- square-foot storefront for a fraction of the cost it would have cost me for even a much smaller [storefront] on Main Street or Commercial Drive.”

For more information on the next tour, visit madeinstrathcona.com.

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