Shop like a Vancouverite: Where to stock up on West Coast necessities

by Grace McRae-Okin

Sure bright lights, fast food and big sales make for a fun shopping experience every once in a while, but big box stores and retail chains can’t compare to Vancouver’s unique, independent stores. When locals want to stock up on West Coast necessities, they skip the mall and hit the city’s best small shops and one-of-a-kind boutiques. If you want to shop like a local in Vancouver, lace up your boots, grab an umbrella and head out for a day of exploring in these three neighbourhoods. [Image courtesy of Neighbour / Woman]

Shop like a Vancouverite: Where to stock up on West Coast necessities

Main Street

Start your day out in picturesque Mount Pleasant with a locally roasted coffee; you can’t go wrong with a 49th Parallel brew paired with a Lucky’s maple-bacon doughnut, or a JJ Bean Americano and a vegan muffin. Popular among hipsters and young families alike, this ’hood is a weekend destination for local shoppers, offering indie bookstores, healthful juice bars, and funky vintage clothing shops such as Front and Company, F as in Frank and Aunt Leah’s Urban Thrift. Quirky and budget-friendly general stores Wonderbucks and Welk’s are also local favourites.

Plan to wind your way north down Main Street until you arrive at the Ellis Building. Built in 1907, this heritage gem is now the permanent home of The Eastside Flea, a modern day flea market open every second weekend throughout the year. More than 50 local vendors hawk their wares, which range from vintage denim to homemade soap to handcrafted jewellery. If you’re a green thumb, this is a great place to pick up healthy succulents and air plants. Gift shopping is a breeze thanks to the wide selection of antiques, records, collectibles, clothing, and locally crafted items all under one roof. Plus there’s typically a DJ on deck and food trucks hanging outside, making for a fun shopping experience. Don’t leave without checking out the Explorer’s Press table. This line of printed ephemera and apparel was founded in 2012 by artist and designer Brendan Megannety, whose designs have since gained international appeal (his “People to Kill” sketchbook is a favourite of style blogger Tavi Gevinson).

Chinatown

Walk a couple blocks further north on Main Street and hook a left onto Pender Street to continue your West Coast shopping excursion at the inimitable International Village Mall (also known as Tinseltown). Unlike other big-box shopping malls, this Vancouver retail center survives on a mish-mash of convenience stores, a thriving movie theatre and not much else. Locals might have a difficult time explaining how the rent gets paid with so many empty storefronts (or stores that must be fronts), but a dip into Yokoyaya123 will quickly make you forget any qualms you might have. The impressive 3,000-square-foot dollar store stocks a seriously large selection of affordable Japanese goods that range from everyday household necessities to cartoonish playthings. Want to stock up on kitchen gadgets, colourful stationery and your favourite Pocky flavours? You’ll find it all (and then some) at this original spot.

If you prefer fine craftsmanship and utility over cute-and-kitschy, stroll a couple blocks west towards Pender and Seymour and pop into the Umbrella Shop. One of three locations in Vancouver, this iconic family-owned shop has been in business since 1935. As the name suggests, the store specializes in high-quality umbrellas and wet-weather gear designed to protect the otherwise rain-drenched population of Vancouver.

Gastown

Moseying east through Gastown, you’ll be greeted by some of Vancouver’s most interesting shops, galleries restaurants and bars. From blog-worthy home furnishings to trendsetting fashions, the boutiques in this historic neighbourhood are bursting with personality and one-of-a-kind items. Decor darlings can shop for contemporary accent pieces, furniture, textiles, kitchenware, house plants and more from beautifully appointed home stores such as L’Atelier Home, Parliament Interiors and Old Faithful Shop. Stop in at Neighbour and sister shop Neighbour Woman for chic, minimalist, Scandinavian-inspired clothing and accessories for men and women from coveted international designers. For offbeat footwear, local institution John Fluevog is the place for out-of-the-ordinary shoes and boots. Vancouverites head to Dish & Due/er Performance Denim for built-to-last jeans and athleisurewear designed for active, outdoor lifestyles. And speaking of activewear, no Vancouver shopping experience would be complete without a stop at Lululemon Lab; the new location on Powell Street is a stylish design incubator and concept shop stocking exclusive workout apparel, streetwear and capsule collections from the acclaimed Vancouver-born retailer.

Before you settle in for a well-deserved craft beer at Six Acres, finish your day at local favourite Nouvelle Nouvelle and treat yourself to a well-curated selection of clothing, accessories and apothecary items from independent and up-and-coming labels. The jewellery collection here is particularly impressive and includes cute-and-dainty pieces from Brooklyn brand Catbird and bold, modern works from Vancouver-based line Wasted Effort. “Wasted Effort is a great example of the hand-crafted work being made in this city,” says Nouvelle Nouvelle co-owner Amy York. “Designer Marie Foxall creates stand-out pieces designed to fit seamlessly into the wearer’s everyday rotation while still making a statement.” If you get a bit nervous when purchasing jewellery as a gift, York reminds shoppers to go with their gut. “Look for something that catches your eye and leaves you with a sense of intrigue. Whether it be a unique shape, stone or cheeky saying - something purchased with love and good intent is always well received.”

Whether you’re hunting for vintage antiques, fashion-forward athleticwear or elegant jewellery, there’s no shortage of small, one-of-a-kind boutiques to discover in Vancouver. If you want to shop for unique West Coast goods while supporting the local economy, visit independent artisans, designers and retailers in the city’s hippest ’hoods.

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