Joan McGregor has watched two of the Maple Leaf Bakery staff grow up. Since moving to the area in 2001, the 79-year-old West End resident visited the bakery, which sells fresh bread, cakes, muffins and other pastries, on a daily basis.
“I really truly will miss them,” says McGregor. “They’re like family to me.”
Maple Leaf Bakery, on Davie Street near Bute Street, will soon close its doors, following in the steps of a number of businesses in the West End as of late, including Dover Arms Pub, West Valley Market, Hapa Izakaya on Robson Street at Nicola Street and the Upper Deck (formerly Speakeasy) restaurant that sits across the street from Maple Leaf Bakery.
The Tam family purchased the bakery in 1988 after co-owner Raymond Tam, 58, attended culinary classes at Vancouver Community College and apprenticing in local bakeries.
Five years ago, the family was shocked when their property lease jumped up by 30 percent. To make ends meet, they reopened the shop on Sundays. Raymond often works seven days a week, 12 hours per day, and his co-owner and wife Lisa, 61, is often at the shop six days a week.
With their lease coming due again this year, Stephen Tam, 30, says his parents didn’t even bother asking what the new rate would be before deciding to shut their doors. (Westender was unable to reach the owner of the property for comment by press time.)
“It seems like on Davie Street, if you don’t serve alcohol and if you’re not a chain, it’s really hard to keep up with the rents that they’re asking for today,” says Tam. “There’s only so much you can increase your prices, and then everything just goes to rent.”
Tam adds that, with rising costs and the long hours he and his family put into running the bakery, “It’s almost like we’re volunteering, but not for a cause.”
Instead, the family has decided to go into the wholesale business, relocating to a yet-to-be-determined location where they will continue to bake, but will no longer run the shop.
“Ideally, we would like to have someone take over and maybe continue it as a bakery and know that our customer base will be well taken care of,” says Tam who, along with his sister, was one of the staff members whom McGregor watched growing up.
“A lot of our customers are regulars. We see them every day and we know them on a first-name basis.”
The Tams plan to shut down sometime this summer, closing a chapter in their lives that leaves Tam with mixed emotions.
“I’m sad in a sense that we’ve been there for so long,” says Tam. “We know a lot of people in the neighbourhood, but I’m happy that my parents won’t have to work as long and as hard.”
The closing of the Maple Leaf Bakery storefront is part of a larger shift in the neighbhourhood – and the retail sector in general – in which many small family-run businesses are being replaced by larger chains and condos.
McGregor notes that, above and beyond the joy of getting fresh baked goods that she once routinely made herself, there is also a sense of community in the shop where customers and staff would help out with change and where you could count on seeing a familiar face.
“We used to have four bakeries out here and now we only have the Cobs and Maple Leaf Bakery left,” McGregor says with a sigh. “It makes you wonder where to go.”