When the Caprice Nightclub closed on Granville Street two years ago and was replaced by the Colony, a multilevel bar with Ping-Pong and arcade games, that marked a shift in Vancouver’s downtown to a different generation.
The downtown’s new residents and visitors prefer lower-key bars to clubs. They are lining up for lunches at new quick-service restaurants such as Tractor, SMAK and Field & Social, rather than sitting down for something more elaborate. They love artisanal coffee bars such as Quantum or Matchstick. They really, really love Japanese food.
That’s the picture of Vancouver’s downtown revealed in a new study released Thursday, part of an effort by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association to understand how its territory is changing.
The most recent study, along with one last year on retail, shows surprising healthiness among a wide range of downtown businesses.
Although there were a lot of closings among food and drink establishments – 365 in all between 2012 and 2018, most of them in operation for less than three years – there were more that opened.
“It seems that with the growing employment population, there’s a response being made to serve them,” said the business association’s executive director Charles Gauthier.
The number of food and drink establishments increased by 1.5 per cent each year, with a net gain of 71 new operations. That was less than the gain in general retail, which saw 4.4-per-cent annual gains and 212 new businesses among the approximately 7,000 in the downtown area.
That has happened as the already large downtown residential population has continued to grow slowly, while an unprecedented office-building boom has drawn thousands more employees to the peninsula.
The one category of food and drink that saw a decline was “liquor primary,” otherwise known as nightclubs.
A study cited in the report noted that “aging millennials … do not frequent nightclubs as often as Generation X during the discotheque era. Millennials are increasingly choosing pubs and restaurants over nightclubs for a night out.”
Not only did the Colony, with its arcade games, replace the Caprice club, but a new operation similar to the Colony, the Cineplex Rec Room, is due to open on Granville next year.
High-end restaurants didn’t decline, but they didn’t increase, something that Mr. Gauthier said his organization is keeping an eye on.
“There is a void there to address the late-night economy.”
Although a few high-end restaurants have appeared recently, such as David Hawksworth’s Nightingale, there was a net gain of only two new full-service restaurants in the six years the study looked at.
Both the report and Mr. Gauthier noted that one of the major problems with trying to open a new higher-end large restaurant is the lack of spaces available.
Because of that and because they’re easier and more profitable, the growth was in quick-service operations, where customers aren’t just processed quickly through counter service but where a lot of the meals produced are ordered through an app.
“I was surprised there was growth in that sector, but it was a pleasant surprise,” said Mr. Gauthier, who said he has turned to those kinds of options himself for lunches.
Japanese food continues to be an overwhelming favourite for diners, constituting 13 per cent of all the food services downtown.
Food trucks, which were once hyped as a dynamic new addition, seem to have died off. The report notes that only about 20 trucks operate currently downtown. At the height of food-truck mania five years ago, more than 100 trucks were licensed to operate in the city.
“They’re not as exciting, they’re not as novel any more,” Mr. Gauthier said.
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