The corner of Abbott and West Hastings in downtown Vancouver yields a very interesting dichotomy. Look west of Abbott and you'll find the gleaming, industrial condos of the Woodwards complex along with hip clothing shops, restaurants and a media school. Look east and you'll see many of the residents of the downtown eastside just barely able to scrape together a few coins for a meal. In the middle of it all lies the wonderful Acme Cafe, where I've had many long, lingering weekend brunches. Next to the Acme, is a shop I've only recently noticed. And I'm not sure why it took me this long.
Luke's General Store is tiny on the outside; walk too fast and you literally could miss it. Once you're in, however, the cathedral ceilings take your breath way. It's a magnificent space where you could pick up some old vinyl (why be like everyone else with an iPod?), shaving cream, some moccasins and some charcuterie to take home. Yes, it has a bit of everything, as it is a general store - for all people, families, individuals - very 'democratic' as described by Veronika Rezucha, resident Queen Bee and dry goods manager for Luke's. She also liked my description as a "lifestyle concept store" - one that seemed more fitting.
Luke's pedigree hails not from Vancouver but from Calgary's Bridgeland neighbourhood, where its parent company is Luke's Drug Mart (an actual pharmacy). It seems fitting that the Vancouver outpost that owner Gareth Luke oversees (his grandfather opened the Calgary spot in 1951) is more of a reflection of its edgier surroundings. And while Gareth's family boasts seven generations of pharmacists, Gareth's first passion is music. So it seemed fitting that he opened the vinyl section to the store first. You can find a selection of records upstairs in the loft space along with an interesting collection of headphones, mini speakers and other acoustic accoutrement.
Other items of note in the loft space include Laurentian Chief moccasins made by First Nations bands in Quebec, Pendleton towels from Portland, Laundress clothing care essentials from New York and leather care by Otter Wax from Portland.
Head back downstairs and you can order a cup of Four Barrel Coffee, pick up The Farmhouse milk, yogurt and cheeses, The Beast & Brine meats and cheese, Elman's Kosher Pickles from Winnepeg, and the "best olive oil ever made" by Famiglia (that quote is from Veronica). There's ample seating and amazing natural light. Best thing though - watching the neighbourhood characters go about their day.
The highlight of my visit, though was simply to listen to Veronika talk about her products like they're her children. She knows each product intimately - where it's from, who makes it, the family history behind the manufacturing, etc. That's rare these days - to possess such a passion to make it feel worthwhile to simply stay and listen. Or pick up a block of cheese or two.
I'd love to see them expand their grocery line - there's certainly more room to do so. Downstairs is where all the space, air and light reside - perfect for sitting, lounging and planning world domination.
Luke's General Store
49 West Hastings Street