The city of Vancouver is renowned for its surrounding natural beauty in the purest Pacific Northwest style – lush forests and majestic mountains by the sea. But beyond the magnificent backdrop is the city’s cultural diversity, broad culinary landscape and buzzing design scene that makes Vancouver one of the most vibrant cities in Canada, and in the world. Despite the increasing cost of living, many creative entrepreneurs have built design-led independent shops and cafés that are thriving thanks to a nurturing community that appreciates shopping small.
The heavenly aroma of freshly baked goodies welcomes you as you walk into this East Vancouver café and bakery. After a couple of decades as a neighbourhood staple, Liberty was bought in 2014 by artists Rodney Graham, Shannon Oksanen and Scott Livingstone. The space was given a Nordic-inspired makeover, as a nod to the original owner’s heritage. Oozing quiet charm, Liberty’s eye-catching features are vintage portraits hanging from crisp white walls and tables in pink and yellow designed by Livingstone.
Le Marché St. George
A crooked turn-of-the-century building stands proud with quiet grandeur on the corner of a Vancouver residential street lined with cherry blossom trees. Inside, a cosy and welcoming interior is home to more than a café and general store; it’s a true community hub. The rustic interior emulates old-world allure with its faded wallpapered walls, marble-top tables and local artisan products displayed on the shelves – from urban honey to small-batch jam and beeswax candles. Whether it’s for long conversations over crêpes and a latte or a quiet morning reading, Le Marché St. George is without a doubt a hidden gem.
Hey Jude’s model is simple: to showcase a thoughtful and well-edited collection of sustainable and independently created products that support the slow fashion movement. Their commitment to upcycling and reusing apparel extends from providing an elevated experience shopping for pre-loved finds to the ingenious solutions used to display vintage garments of contemporary sophistication in natural fibres, housewares in warm tones and accessories from like-minded brands. This minimalistic space in a distinctive palette of neutral tones is a must when visiting the bustling streets of Gastown.
Nelson the Seagull
Also nestled in the heart of the historic Gastown district, is Nelson the Seagull – a place with a lot of character, good coffee and tasty bites – with a flair for sourdough bread. Industrial fixtures painted in white blend seamlessly with the original tiled floor of this heritage building. Adding to the atmosphere is an antique apothecary cabinet, rich with stories to tell, that has been in the shop since the family-run business opened in 2011. Next time you are in, open one of the drawers to find an assortment of photos, drawings, and uplifting notes patrons are encouraged to leave there.
A love for collecting and treasure hunting was the inspiration behind Stepback, an unassuming little shop in Kitsilano with light-filled windows and anatomy charts hanging from the walls. Over the years, owners Chris Switzer and Robin Muxlow have carefully hand-picked interesting pieces that have caught their eye. Here, tastefully displayed atop quaint farm tables, old-school desks or stacks of wooden crates, you can find an eclectic mix of antique and vintage oddities: suitcases of exquisite craftsmanship, nostalgic globes and pennants, patina-perfect tableware and typewriters aplenty.
Butter Bakery & Cafe
Romantic floral patterns, soft pastel hues, delicate china, antique accents and crystal chandeliers go hand in hand with the featherlike sugary confections on display inside the glass cases at Butter. This out-of-a-fairy-tale bakery had been a lifelong dream of bestselling cookbook author Rosie Daykin. Here, you can find an array of whimsical nostalgic treats that will take you right back to your childhood: cheerful cupcakes, fluffy handmade marshmallows, airy meringues and scrumptious compotes.
The Soap Dispensary
Inspired by the zero-waste movement and a passion for greener, more sustainable shopping alternatives, The Soap Dispensary is the first of its kind in the city: a dedicated refill and zero waste grocery store. Its row of shiny chrome taps ready to dispense liquid products sets the tone well. Choosing from more than 800 items – from premium body care products to biodegradable cleaners to spices and jams – customers can refill their own containers or purchase from the wall-to-wall white shelves brimming with sleek cobalt glass bottles and amber apothecary jars varying in size and function.
Before Livia looked like it does today – marbled counters, brass lights, navy wooden panelled walls and dried bouquets hanging above the tables with cast iron pedestals – the space was a dated rainbow-coloured shop that husband and wife duo Claire Livia Lassam and Jordan Pires transformed with painstaking love into a cosy haven. Against the large window, rows of rustic wooden shelves filled with freshly baked loaves of artisan bread pay homage to Livia’s signature product. But the offerings of this delightful spot in the heart of Commercial Drive extend to full meals, from breakfast to aperitifs and dinner, made from scratch using high-quality ingredients.
As you enter Bloom Room, a statement-making turquoise floor half covered with Persian rugs invites you in. Inside, lush plants are strategically placed in a way that is both soothing and enthralling, and if you are lucky, you might meet two sweet mutts looking at you intently from behind the counter. In the adjacent space, you’ll find delicate dried flowers, unique ceramic bowls and a quiet spot to sit down and take in all this beauty. But what sets Bloom Room apart is its knowledgeable owners who will find the perfect plant for you even if your thumb is more black than green.