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Closing time

Sadly, after 63 years Bert's is toast Add to ...

For 63 years, Bert’s Restaurant has served up bargain-priced bacon and eggs to generations of customers on Main Street in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

Bert’s was an institution before Mount Pleasant was cool, its streetscapes thick with independent boutiques and coffee bars. When Albert (Bert) Srigley first opened the doors in 1948, Mackenzie King was prime minister, Byron Johnson of the Liberals was B.C. premier. Prince Charles was born that year.

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The sidewalks in front of the store were made of wooden planks. There was a garage across the street for Vancouver’s long-ago streetcar system. (An IGA Marketplace is there now.)

On Monday, however, customers were dumbfounded to learn that Bert’s is toast. The last eggs and bacon will be fried next Saturday.

Several factors have battered Bert’s, owner Gerry De Kova said. They include the HST and a $6,000 increase in property taxes, as well as rising food costs that made it cheaper for some regulars to buy their HST-free groceries and cook their eggs and bacon at home. This, despite Bert’s price of $3.99 (plus tax) for the all-day breakfast and $6.50 tab for the classic – two pancakes, two eggs and a choice of meat.

“If it was just one or two of these factors, we’d be able to weather it, but it’s just a whole bunch of things all at once, which hurt our business,” Mr. De Kova said.

The demise of the 106-seat eatery – famous for its collection of bobblehead dolls behind the cash register, depicting everyone from the Beatles to Colonel Sanders to Mr. De Kova himself – comes as several familiar retail and commercial institutions are toppling in Vancouver.

The three-storey HMV outlet at Burrard and Robson is near the end of a clearance sale after 15 years under the Virgin Megastore (Richard Branson opened it) and then HMV banner. And Oakridge Cinemas, a movie theatre in the depths of the Oakridge mall, closed Monday after 26 years in business.

As customers arrived at Bert’s on Monday, some paused to use their mobile phones to snap photos of the handwritten sign on the door that said the end is near. “Thanks You For Your Patronage,” it concluded.

Greg Gagnaux only discovered Bert’s a few months ago. “There’s no pretense here. Everybody is welcome. There’s no particular crowd that hangs out here,” he said after breakfast Monday. “It’s a wide range. I wish more places were like that.”

Judy Stevens, departing after breakfast with her friend Judi Piggott, said she has been coming for about 50 years, since she was six. She remembered streetcar workers crossing the street for Bert’s cuisine.

“I’m going to be sad to see it go,” Ms. Stevens said. “The food is really good. The service is excellent, very laidback.”

Mr. De Kova was 13 when he first came to Bert’s on Thanksgiving in 1972, because the kitchen at home was being renovated, and the restaurant was the closet with turkey on the menu.

He became a fan of the place, which Mr. Srigley sold to the family of John Kletas, who kept the name. Five years ago, Mr. De Kova bought it.

“I just wanted to carry on the tradition,” he said Monday. “I knew if someone else took it over, they would change it and I didn’t want that to happen because there’s so many memories from here. It’s a community within a community.”

A census of that community would turn up blue-collar workers – plumbers and those in construction, among others – who saw Bert’s as a fuelling spot for a day’s work; pensioners and the elderly who made Bert’s a lifelong habit; and neighbourhood families.

“I was a customer for 40 years,” Mr. De Kova said. “We have had customers here even longer than that, but they’re getting on in their age. Some are passing on and in care homes.”

He said a new restaurant is coming, but he does not have many details on what it will be, except that the space will go through extensive renovations. And it won’t be Bert’s.

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