Friday, September 02, 2005

West Fourth (Vancouver) Contributed by Lezah

Swank Home

Welcome! Here we are, about to embark on a new Swanktrendz feature: the Vancouver 'neighbourhood profile'; and I can honestly think of no better location to start with than Kitsilano's West Fourth Avenue.

Just to give you a bit of background, the Kitsilano neighbourhood proper extends from 16th Avenue north to the shores of English Bay; to the west its boundary is Alma Street, and from there it extends east to Burrard Street. This area was originally the home of a very wealthy First Nations band, and the name Kitsilano is a derivation of the name of a popular First Nations chief from the area. His name was spelled 'Khahtsalano', and many locals will still give the area this pronunciation. Now the area is known more commonly as 'Kits'. For more information on the Kits area, go to

Now, Kits is the neighbourhood in which my Dad grew up, so I, in turn, heard story after fanciful story during my youth about the antics of those growing up in the Kits area back in the day. Likewise, my aunt and uncle lived in the Fourth and Alma area during my youth, and consequently, I spent many summers down there, not to mention every second Christmas.

So, although I personally have never lived in Kits, I know for a fact that it is a great place to live. A stone's throw from the beach, and a short drive or bike ride from downtown, False Creek or UBC, Kits fulfills the three most important rules of real estate: location, location, and location. This is prime real estate we're talking about here, ladies and gentlemen: the average price for a 2000 square foot house in Kits is somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1-2 million, depending upon how close to the beach you are. But, even if you can't afford to live there, you can still hang out and shop there, so let me tell you all about that...

Today I'm going to concentrate on the West Fourth area of Kits, because I have been hanging there a bit this summer. What I'll do is let you know some of the highlights, and you can fill in the rest. First of all, West Fourth is the street for people who are into specialized, individualized, and one-of-a-kind merchandise. You won't find a Walmart or a McDonalds within spitting distance. This is the place to come if you need a flag: at the east end of Kits is The Flag Shop on Fourth, which carries flags from every country you've ever heard of (and probably some you've never heard of, too). A stone's throw up the street is The Telescope Shop and, you guessed it - they sell telescopes. Right next door is Videomatica, the place to go if you need a rare, hard-to-find, video - or a new release - they've got it all. At Chocolate Arts you can buy chocolate that is, quite literally, art: they have chocolate designed by world-reknowned West Coast First Nations artist Robert Davidson, and it is incredible - as are many, many other items in their store. This is food that is almost too good to eat...

There are restaurants, bistros, and coffee shops all up and down the drive. I ate at Pastis Bistro this summer, and I'm still dreaming about the Half-baked Chocolate Cake that I had for dessert; Bishops is just up the road from Pastis, and the night I was there, the line-up was out the door (I understand this is a regular occurrence); Sophie's Cosmic Cafe is regularly voted Best of... in Vancouver, and has done so consistently for years. It's funky, eclectic, and has great food - they've got a great burger selection, but also cater to the vegetarian crowd.

Clothing stores line West Fourth on both sides, and the selection is incredible and diverse. There is high- end fashion - Gravity Pope Shoes recently opened on the Drive, and they have the best selection of shoes on the West Coast. Hailing from Australia is Blundestone, and you can find their Vancouver store on Fourth, too. There are stores that sell designer mark-downs; there are thrift stores; there are West Coast-chic lifestyle-type stores like the wildly popular Lululemon; there are high-end fashion consignment stores. You could, quite literally, shop for a wardrobe on West Fourth, spend a quarter of what you would have done at the mall, and end up with clothes that: a) would never have been sold in a mall in the first place; b) are completely unique and individual, so you'll never, ever have to worry about anybody else wearing the same thing as you; and c) you'll look way better than anyone else!

On top of that, there are furniture and accessory stores that primarily deal in contemporary furnishing, although there are some funky rustic-looking places, too. Carpets, art, kitchenware, bathroom accessories - you want it? They've got it!

Hair, make-up, day spas - they're all there too. And other types of lifestyle stores: Zulu records has long been one of the best supporters of indie bands and labels, and they carry a huge stock of new and used vinyl and cds, and also do concert ticket sales - especially handy as many indie shows don't use the 'big guys' like Ticketmaster or House of Blues. The Comics Shop is a cool (in the nerdy sense) place with tons of stuff that you'll likely never find anywhere else, and happens to be right next door to the Candy Shop, which has every type of candy ever known to man. They specialize in British chocolates and sweets, and also carry a wide variety of current and retro (remember those candy cigarettes we used to get as kids?) sweets. There are a couple of places that cater to our four-legged companions, and I noticed that many of the stores allow people to bring their canine companions into the stores. As well, I noticed at least two stores that had installed in-store water fountains for their customers - complimentary, of course.

So, if you have an eye for the fun, a hankering for the eclectic, a need for the funky - then head down to West Fourth. As one shop keeper told us, "We go all over to buy our stuff - India, Africa, Japan, Paris - because all the stores in the mall already have what everyone else has. We try to be different - to be unique." And that, my friends, just about sums up Kits in a word: unique...

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