COLUMN: Here's hoping the old Edmonds isn't all wiped out by the new
Maybe you have a favourite little grocery store for fruit and vegetables, flowers and basic supplies as I do—Tommy’s Market, on Edmonds Street.
It’s handy: dairy, frozen foods, greeting cards, cleansers and canned goods. It’s fresh; produce is delivered six days a week, and it’s cheap; today BC Spartan apples are 69¢ a pound and avocados are 79¢ each. And it’s friendly, too.
I fear it is a vanishing breed; the small family owned market, open every day. Some markets locate near a school and do a steady business in junk food. Big stores have extended hours, sales and coupons, and the convenience of a huge selection. But I make a point of shopping at Tommy’s; Jimmy Pattison has enough money already, and I like to support local shops. The cost of produce, taxes and the work of running a small business may not appeal to the next generation. It was the parents, many of them immigrants, who pushed their children to get an education and a better job. Now who will take on the store?
Walter Chu will. In fact he has two grocery stores.
The story of mum-and-pop groceries is the story of Burnaby changing and growing into a modern city. Tommy and Betty Chu had their first store beside Gord-Ron Motors on Edmonds from 1969 until 1972. By working two jobs, one delivering for the Rickshaw Restaurant on Kingsway, Tommy made enough money to buy a bigger place in 1973, an old tire shop. It has been Tommy’s Market ever since.
A grocery store isn’t a business for the faint hearted; in the beginning they were open from 10 a.m. until midnight every day. There was competition from major food stores: the present Value Village building was a Dominion store (then IGA) but they closed early and were not open weekends. The present-day Rona used to be a Safeway.
The Chu family lived in East Vancouver and had to take the bus to Edmonds and back. They had four children: Sharon, Walter, Calvin, and Wayne. Everyone worked in the store. Walter recalls memory games his mother taught him as she worked, unloading produce and dry goods, and manning the cash register. He remembers her fondly, a hard working and loving mother. She put in long hours at the market, managed the kids and home, and made years of late-night dinners. She died too early in 1991.
In 1987 Tommy asked his son Walter if he wanted the market. Walter was at BCIT at the time studying business but said yes. It’s clear, as he artfully adds pink gerberas to a floral wreath, that he likes his job. He doesn’t need to worry about his weight—his job includes plenty of exercise, and he never stops moving.
Walter talks about the history of Edmonds, the old photographs he keeps, the stories he shares with Shawn Barnes from Gord-Ron Motors. They have seen some changes in 50 years, and the transition taking place now.
There’s Highgate, the new Edmonds Community Centre, the Esprit Towers, the Tommy Douglas Library, signs of investment and growth. We should get used to seeing destruction and construction, roadwork and resurfacing, as the neighbourhood changes. The low-end Edmonds still exists: a pawnbroker, a thrift shop, Value Village, a dollar store, an adult store, and a few houses stranded in a commercial zone. A neighbourhood of two-level apartments built in the 1950s and 60s surrounds Richmond Park. Ethnic restaurants serve up African, Chinese, and Thai food. I hope these small businesses can survive the upgraded neighbourhood, and the likely upgraded rents and taxes. I hope some flavour of working class Edmonds will remain.
Will Tommy’s Market be there in 10 years? Will it thrive with densification and a bigger customer base? Walter thinks so.
It’s not just a cabbage I’m buying; it’s a way of living.
• Anne Hopkinson is a Burnaby resident still working on the three Rs: reading, writing, and rambling.