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Curbside headache for Broadway's Odin Books

Ongoing subway construction keeping customers away from Vancouver bookstore, says co-owner
Construction of the Broadway subway has made trouble for merchants like Odin Books co-owner Catherine Ellsmere, as customers face restricted access | Rob Kruyt

Curbside pickup was a saving grace for Odin Books at the outset of the pandemic, as COVID-19 restrictions shuttered the specialty shop at 108 East Broadway from March 2020 until later that spring.

Despite widespread lockdowns bruising retailers’ bottom lines, co-owner Catherine Ellsmere recalls business at her bookstore – known for specializing in mental health titles – remained relatively steady. 

“During the pandemic there was much more demand for dealing with anxiety within the family.… They came to us looking for resources, so we tried to fill some gaps for people.”

Online sales began ramping up, with some orders being made as far away as Australia, while locals would roll up and park outside to pick up their new purchases. And then construction on the Broadway subway commenced.

“Before they decided to dig Quebec [Street] up, that was our loading zone or curbside pickup area,” Ellsmere said, adding customers who now might be able to find parking blocks away still struggle to find the store amid all the construction activity.

Odin Book sits in a precarious position along the construction route. Noise-cancelling barriers block much of the signage outside its storefront. Customers who trot eastward from Quebec Street along the south side of Broadway will find themselves between the exteriors of neighbouring stores on their right and draped fences separating construction crews from the street on their left. The south side of the Broadway sidewalk then turns into a dead end one building down from Odin Books, where crews are building the new Mount Pleasant station at the former site of a Tim Hortons Inc. outlet on the corner of Broadway and Main Street. Returning west from that dead end, customers soon encounter work trucks and construction equipment occupying a chunk of Quebec Street where bookstore patrons once parked.

The province has said it’s working with businesses to deal with the effects of construction and provide access to shops along the construction path, and the City of Vancouver has helped develop parking and access maps for customers.

Construction is expected to continue through to 2025. Ellsmere is hoping businesses like hers will receive compensation from government.

“COVID was one thing,” she said. “Dealing with this is a whole other ballgame.”

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