When the Beehive Hair Lounge packed up its hair supplies and moved to Fraser Street recently, an alarm bell sounded for Main Street shop owners.
Beehive had been a Main Street institution the last decade, an independently-owned shop with the kind of owners and staff who knew all the shop owners around them.
It's that mom-and-pop charm that has made Main Street one of the best pedestrian streets in the city. But high rents have pushed Beehive out of the neighbourhood and into the arms of Fraser Street, only seven or so blocks away. When faced with a rent increase that had nearly doubled, owner Sarah Campbell decided to make the leap to Fraser, and she isn't alone.
The move is a telltale sign that Fraser Street is becoming the new Main Street. In the last year, real estate prices in the Fraser area have soared, a major condo project is under way, and retail businesses are slowly but surely trickling in.
"We are a small business, and we don't have a lot of extra income to pay huge rent and we don't want to raise our prices. To move a few blocks and keep prices low makes more sense to me," says Ms. Campbell, who, like more than half her clientele, also lives around Fraser.
"There are a lot of vacant spots on Main Street now, because rents are so high. The only people who can afford that rent are bigger corporations.
"It's gentrification. It happened on Cambie. You have to be aware of it, and you have to think forward. And I thought about it for the last five years, I saw it happening."
High prices have also pushed a lot of first-time home buyers out of the Main Street area and toward Fraser Street, a formerly non-descript, relatively low-priced area bordered by the semi-truck-thoroughfare that is Clark Drive. Perhaps precisely because of chaotic Clark Drive, the streets between Clark and Fraser have remained relatively untouched by new development. To the delight of heritage-home lovers, they contain a lot of intact old houses that, compared to Main Street, have proven an irresistible bargain the last couple of years.
But those new residents have needs, such as coffee shops. Katharine Reynolds, who is one of Fraser's new residents, saw the demand and jumped at it.
Ms. Reynolds is owner of the just-opened Outpost Café on Fraser Street, located near the new Beehive. The film industry production designer had purchased a Queen Anne bungalow in the area three years ago for $525,000. After a renovation to update the house, she recently had it appraised at $865,000.
"It was an awesome investment," she says.
But her investment, she says, has turned into a great home, too. She's since fallen in love with the neighbourhood.
"A lot of my friends have moved into the neighbourhood as well," says Ms. Reynolds. "There are great character homes in this neighbourhood, and not so crazy expensive as the west side. I'm one block east of Fraser, and my house would have been $300,000 more if it was just a few blocks west, on the other side of Main."
There is a new listing for a five-bedroom house at 1044 E. 13th Avenue, near Glen Street, a block and a half off Clark. The house, which has been totally renovated and sits on a 33-foot lot, is listed at $1.228 million. For the last three or four years, that kind of price tag was more often around fashionable Main Street, not Fraser.
Realtor Nancy Steele wasn't surprised to hear about the new listing.
"Within the last six months, there have been sales well over $1-million in that area," says Ms. Steele.
As for whether she thinks Fraser is the new Main Street, she doesn't have to think long.
"I just wonder whether you're too late to even say that. It's already happened."
There is evidence that young families and first-time buyers already fill the neighbourhood. The area's pristine parks are filled with mothers and strollers. The tired old character homes have undergone loving renovations and restorations. Front yard and boulevard gardens have sprouted up. Block parties are being held in the summer. There are regular line-ups to get into Les Faux Bourgeois, a French upscale bistro in the area that saw a niche and is now routinely filled to capacity. At Fraser and 30th, there is a major condo development called Century under way, complete with city views for around $400,000, and retail stores at street level.
"A year ago, I was looking to buy a 30-year-old Vancouver Special around Glen Park for myself," says Ms. Steele. "They were going for $650,000 or $675,000 at the time, and now I'm looking closer to $800,000.
"What I'm getting at is that a year or a year and a half ago, the people who wanted the character home on the tree-lined street, were saying, 'Ok, I can't afford Main Street, so I will plug my nose and move in here and we'll just pretend.' And now it's changed. Now they are saying, 'I want to be in that neighbourhood.'
"I wish I was more seriously anticipating this change," adds Ms. Steele, an avid real estate investor herself. "I kind of saw it coming but I didn't jump on it."
Part of the appeal of the area for house buyers, she says, is that it is also approved for single-family laneway housing under the City's new eco-density initiative. As well, it's a central neighbourhood, with direct access to downtown along the Kingsway corridor. And it's got trees, lots of trees.
"It's one of the few areas where there are tree-lined streets. And there's an excellent school there," says Ms. Steele. "The neighbourhood is hot as hell."
Meanwhile, as their neighbours move out, some Main Street shop owners worry about generic corporate retail moving in. There is a spacious Tim Horton's at Broadway, and developer Will Lin has plans for a 26-storey condo tower to stand where the former Slickity Jim's Chat & Chew diner once served up breakfast for the locals.
"It's a huge topic around here - all the business owners are like, 'Wow, what is going on?'" says Red Cat Records co-owner Dave Gowans, who was surprised to see long-time shops like Beehive move out. Some businesses have had to go out of business entirely due to rent hikes. Across the street from his store, he has witnessed a real estate office move in and a children's bookstore move out.
The rumour is that a natural soap and oils chain store is going to move in to the old Beehive, the sort of shop usually found in a yuppie neighbourhood like Fourth Avenue.
"In a few years, if things continue the way they are, and businesses keep having to move, I don't know what our existence will look like here," says Mr. Gowans.
"I love this neighbourhood. I worry about stores like Starbucks moving in, things that we just don't really need more of in Vancouver."
Special to The Globe and Mail