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Bob Harris, the family owner of the 92 year-old Ted Harris Paints in east Vancouver, sold the paint store to the Rennie family.The Globe and Mail

Ted Harris Paints has been a neighbourhood institution for the last 91 years, and it's about to become a neighbourhood game-changer.

The downtrodden strip of Hastings east of Main Street is undergoing transformation. At the heart of the area, which is on the fringe of Strathcona, is the paint store, which has been closed since owner Bob Harris retired almost a year ago. He sold the building at 757 E. Hastings to Kris Rennie, who works with his father, high-profile marketer and art collector, Bob Rennie. Mr. Rennie and son will oversee its conversion into artist studio rental spaces - if the city gives them the go-ahead.

Mr. Rennie says that he and his son have no intention of developing any kind of residential space at 757 E. Hastings. That will be developer Bruno Wall's job. Mr. Rennie's long-time collaborator, Mr. Wall is proposing the area's first condo development two blocks away at 955 East Hastings - another game-changer.

"We have the Waldorf, Bob has bought that little building; I think it's ripe for change," says Mr. Wall.

Mr. Wall is aware that there might be community residents who will oppose his proposal for market housing, but he hopes they will recognize that he would also be supplying affordable housing and job opportunities.

Mr. Wall aims to build an unusual complex that fulfills the city's mandate to provide housing, while maintaining light industrial space and artist studio space. The area was originally zoned for light industrial but back in the mid 90s, it was given the green light to be rezoned for residential as well.

Mr. Wall's plan is to provide housing in combination with ground level workspaces for manufacturing industries and retailers, along with artist studios. He has applied for rezoning, and community consultation should happen soon. If the project is approved, he expects pre-sales to launch either late 2012 or early 2013.

"Our objective is to make it attractive enough from a price point of view… and the views on the north side are just spectacular. There's nothing in front of you."

Mr. Wall envisions three mid-rise buildings with a large podium, comprising 280 condo units and 70 units of city-managed affordable housing, which fits with the city's policy for affordable housing in the area.

The target buyer who will be in keeping with the current demographic. The area is home to the annual arts event, the Eastside Culture Crawl, and Mr. Wall sees his new project as the perfect space for that use.

"The key objective is to create employment-generating space, to employ people in the neighbourhood. For example, someone who makes plumbing fixtures, they could have a small showroom. That would be on the ground floor on Hastings."

City planning director Brent Toderian says Mr. Wall's idea is in keeping with the city's policies for that part of Hastings.

"We are seeing gradual transformation or transition of the area," says Mr. Toderian. "There is certainly an interest that rather than replacing the industrial, gritty, edgy feel to it, that other uses could be brought in while retaining that edgy feel. Given that it's been let go for industrial uses as of the mid 90s, we anticipate housing, but we would like to see it mixed with other uses."

Signs of revitalization are already under way in an area where prostitution and drug use have long been an issue. Close to Ted Harris Paints store is fine cheese shop Les Amis du Fromage, and its wine bar Au Petit Chavignol. Near Heatley and Hastings, the area's first full-service community library with social housing on the upper floors is expected to be built by 2014. West of Clark Drive, the Waldorf venue and hotel has proven a destination, even though surrounded by commercial properties.

Mr. Harris, whose grandfather founded Ted Harris Paints, says that he welcomes the change. He attended Strathcona Elementary School, grew up at the back of the store and worked there all his life, starting with his job packaging paint dye when he was "between five- and 10-years old."

The store opened the year he was born, 1947.

Mr. Harris says the drug trade and prostitution ebbed and flowed over the years, depending on the businesses that moved in.

"I think the area will benefit by just having regular people move in and living there, and also regular shops of one sort or another opening up there," says Mr. Harris. "These things all make a difference."

For his part, Mr. Rennie wants to keep the famous signage and turn the legendary paint store into needed studio space in an area already populated with many artists. He has not yet approached the city with his plan.

Mr. Rennie has said previously that the city can now develop in only one direction: Eastward, along the Hastings Street corridor.

"I've been saying since 2002 that the city will grow east… I only have three stories I tell all the time, and that's one of them."


Ted Harris started his paint store at 757 E. Hastings in 1947, but the building had already been in the family since 1920, when it was first a second- hand store and then a bicycle store.

When bicycle parts became scarce during the war, the family switched to the paint business. Bob Harris was raised as a single child in his family's apartment at the back of the building, where he lived with his parents and grandparents.

Back then, painters would mix dye colours into white paint, and Mr. Harris's first job as a little boy was to package the dyes into one-pound bags. He attended Strathcona Elementary School, where he got the strap for running through the girls' play area. By grade three, his family moved out of the neighbourhood, but he continued to work at the shop. Later, he'd obtain his chemistry degree at the University of British Columbia. and take over the store full-time, selling paint throughout B.C.

"It made a profit right through to the end," he says.

He insists that, contrary to popular thinking, prostitution and drug use has long been an issue in the neighbourhood.

"Most people don't have 60 years of living or working experience there, and they think it's new. But from what I recall, it was a problem back then as well. "The street activity would wane, then up and down. There'd be prostitution, then not much, this sort of thing. It's always seemed to me it changed with the people who were operating most of the businesses in the neighbourhood."

When it came time to retire last year, Mr. Harris decided to sell the building off once and for all. But he wanted to find a buyer who'd keep the neon sign, and that was Kris and Bob Rennie. He said he had offers on the sign from a neon collector in Winnipeg and a famous local artist, but the Rennie offer meant the sign would stay with the building.

"I feel good about them buying it. If I could pick a purchaser, which we don't usually get to do, I don't think you could find a better person to buy the building and run it as part of the neighbourhood."

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