Fraser Street's affordability draws new businesses

The area doesn’t have an established name like Main Street or Commercial Drive. Nonetheless, businesses are enjoying plenty of traffic on the stretch of Fraser Street between Kingsway and King Edward Avenue.

This junction of Riley Park, Mount Pleasant and Kensington Cedar-Cottage offers affordable rent for the unique businesses that have chosen to open here.

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“Affordable, very affordable, and it continues to be,” said Andreas Seppelt, co-owner of Les Faux Bourgeois.

Les Faux Bourgeois is situated at the intersection of Fraser and Kingsway in front of the small, diamond-shaped McAuley Park. Seppelt understands the urge for businesses to open in an established area but knew this was perfect for their bistro when they opened in 2008. He credits The Lion’s Den Cafe that has been on the block since 1999.

“It’s really kind of sleepy, really kind of beautiful,” said Seppelt. “In other areas, people are whistling in the dark. There was a little bit of risk [moving here] but that’s where you gain those things. It didn’t feel that risky to us.”

Jethro’s Fine Grub co-owner Emily Stuart also set her eyes on the area. The second Jethro’s opened last summer.

“Main Street, Commercial Drive, Broadway, Fourth — all of the major corridors in the city are either really saturated or really expensive to get into,” said Stuart. “It was nice to have the option of going even further east.”

Stuart thinks Fraser has a character of its own. “It’s such a great neighbourhood with a lot of families. Businesses are moving in that are interesting and not overdone. It’s East Van yet it doesn’t feel like Main Street. It’s refreshing.”

Co-owners Erica Bernadi and Benjamin Ernst opened Earnest Ice Cream on Fraser last August after selling ice cream mobile and to local retailers.

“At first we were a little bit scared,” said Bernadi. “Who knows if people would come? It’s a bit of a destination for most people.”

It is an unconventional location for an ice cream shop, sharing a block with a pho restaurant and a store that sells karaoke equipment, but that did not stop its success. Lines often snake out the door, rain or shine.

“We couldn’t afford Main or Commercial Drive or any other major commercial areas, but it kind of worked for us,” said Ernst.

The draw of individuals to the area happened on its own. “We haven’t spent a dime on advertising,” said Bernadi. “It’s word of mouth for sure and social media is a massive tool.”

Owner Chad Woodley of Sanitary Electric Tattoo Company remembers the area being much quieter when he opened in 2007.

“Things have definitely picked up in the last two to three years,” said Woodley. “There is a little bit more walk-by traffic. There are more neighbourhood people who come here instead of walking up to Main. I’ve finally seen people who live on the other side of Kingsway who never come over here.”

Woodley noted the affordable rent for small businesses but also future potential. “You can sort of see the possibility of it growing a little bit. That’s what Vancouver seems to do.”

Back at Les Faux Bourgeois, Seppelt thinks it will be a long time before Fraser is comparable to Main due to long stretches of houses interrupting clusters of businesses. However, he does see it happening in the future. “Main Street used to be antiques and now it’s very retro with a lot of clothing.”

The mixture of different ethnic groups and work with smaller organizations and elementary schools makes Seppelt happy to be here.

“We believed in the area,” said Seppelt. “To see it blossom is very gratifying.”

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