Wesley Kampff and Peter Inouye sit outdoors, sipping contentedly on glasses of cold craft beer at a small wooden bar. The Sour No. 3 is excellent, Mr. Inouye concludes. “Light, refreshing, crushable.”
The two friends, Mr. Kampff, a health-care worker from Langley and Mr. Inouye, a retail worker who lives in downtown Vancouver, met at Beere Brewing Company for the day. Their goal was to make the rounds of North Vancouver’s “brewery district.”
Their route takes them along the lower streets of the North Shore — a small industrial area that grew up around the shipbuilding operations that went on here for decades. When the shipping industry started to decline, up popped a succession of tire outlets, transmission repair shops, commercial sign manufacturers and martial arts studios. These days, however, these industrial areas have become home to a growing number of craft breweries.
“Part of the attraction to North Vancouver is always the scenery — the mountains and ocean views offer a beautiful landscape,” Mr. Kampff says.
He is not alone in his belief that the area has much to offer, or that it’s the ideal spot to allow for new, local businesses to start and grow.
This spring, North Vancouver city councillors decided to relax the city’s industrial zoning rules governing the waterfront to allow for new types of businesses — such as local craft brewers.
Relaxing city rules to give people what they want
As manufacturing operations, breweries were always permitted in North Vancouver, but up until recently, they were only allowed to serve tiny samples of suds to their customers. No on-site areas to enjoy a cold pint. No lounge where patrons could unwind and relax and, certainly, no food service to help stave off the inevitable hunger.
As the city has changed and grown, so have the needs and wants of residents. Like other municipalities in the area (and across the continent), local zoning requirements were revisited and relaxed in order to allow for entrepreneurial growth.
“Consumers wanted to sit and have a pint,” says City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan. “[Changing the zoning rules] gave more of what customers wanted.”
Being able to open up a customer-area — where people can sit, sample the suds and enjoy the vibe — has been critical to success, says Simon Koldyk, who opened Streetcar Brewing’s space in July.
Mr. Koldyk’s business is a micro-brewery — a tiny place in an alleyway under a home-and-bath store. Because the allowable size of the lounge area is dictated by a brewery’s total square footage, Streetcar’s backdoor lounge can only accommodate two long tables for service.
In spite of the limited space, Mr. Koldyk was wary of being inundated by new customers in his first weeks of opening, to the extent that he decided to open only from Thursdays to Sundays.
“Now breweries are so popular that, in the first couple of weeks they open, some run out of beer,” Mr. Koldyk says. “I know of one that had to close down for two days [due to a suds shortage].”
To safeguard against this scenario, Streetcar is sticking to very limited opening hours, at least until they can build up some inventory. (Making beer takes eight hours for the first phase, but it needs a further two to three weeks to ferment.)
Districts grow and flourish when craft breweries move in
The breweries are just one of several ways in which the city of North Vancouver has been trying to entice people across the water to visit the North Shore — particularly to an area that locals refer to as the Shipyards District. In addition to an influx of new businesses and several street festivals, their efforts to date have also contributed to the creation of a privately funded art gallery on the waterfront, with another new museum also under construction in the same area.
For brewery operators, as well as for North Vancouver’s main business organization, it’s mostly good news — just as it has been for the collection of breweries that have sprung up in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant and East Powell industrial districts and in the old train station district in Port Moody, an eastern suburban city that is now a go-to destination for beer drinkers since becoming accessible via rapid transit three years ago.
“It’s been a positive thing for Port Moody,” says Parkside Brewery owner Sam Payne, who opened his brewery around the same time as the Evergreen rapid transit line came into service. His is one of about half a dozen similar operations lining the same industrial-zoned street in the city, an area which now attracts a steady stream of interest to its popular brewery tours.
Breweries can’t exist on their own
The chief executive officer of North Vancouver’s Chamber of Commerce, Patrick Stafford-Smith, believes that a thriving brewery district needs to have a particular set of conditions in order to thrive.
In North Van, the brewery district works because it is sandwiched between the very successful, regular business area of Lower Lonsdale and a new swathe of dense residential development to the north, plus it’s close to public transit. Other areas, such as Port Moody, rely on the public transit accessibility. “You need a location that supports walking traffic,” Streetcar Brewing’s Mr. Koldyk says. “Some craft beer is heavy in alcohol, and people drinking it don’t want to be driving.”
Mr. Stafford-Smith points out that businesses around an industrial zone like the idea of breweries moving in and developing the area. “The industrial zone is a buffer between the port and residential. So, the businesses around are quite in favour of development in these areas because it brings traffic to the community, making it a neighbourhood asset.” He adds, “it’s rejuvenating areas that weren’t the most desirable.”
Beer districts help grow the future, according to urban theories
Urban studies theorist Richard Florida identifies the 21st-century phenomena is for cities to focus on attracting the ‘creative class.’ As such, many cities are creating or encouraging the creation of specialized districts to encourage new businesses to cluster and grow. Those clusters help small craft-brew operations to have more pull and impact.
The exploding popularity of craft beer and breweries is a trend that’s been building for a while. Mr. Florida, recently highlighted how the number of craft breweries in the United States increased from 27 to a whopping 4,225 between 1985 and 2015. The top cities for brewery clustering in districts were Portland, Ore., Denver, Colo., and Charlotte, N.C., according to Isabelle Nilsson, Neil Reid, and Matthew Lehnert in an article written for the Professional Geographer.
Mr. Stafford-Smith also sees the sharing of business zoning space as a positive. He points out that the breweries’ customers tend to visit at times when industrial businesses aren’t operating, making for efficient land use. However, like others in Vancouver, he does worry about manufacturing and auto repair businesses being crowded out due to the continued erosion of the region’s dwindling industrial territory.
Mr. Stafford-Smith is also concerned about the proliferation of craft breweries in the Lower Mainland. “Inevitably, there will come a time when there are too many craft breweries.”
For the time being, that doesn’t seem to be the case and, right now, it means that locals and those who follow the craft brewery growth are happy how this business class has not only grown but helped once isolated and undesirable communities to also become sought-after growth destinations.