The business community’s best kept secret is historic Strathcona, where creative energy and incredible value meet just blocks from the downtown core.
“Where else can you find a space that overlooks the cranes and the mountains and the ocean?” marvels Steve Thorp, managing director and co-founder of The Settlement Building, where a handful of ventures—Vancouver Urban Winery, Roaring Twenties Wine Co., Belgard Kitchen and FreshTAP Wine-On-Tap—share one monumental address. Thorp is one of a growing cohort of young and passionate entrepreneurs who are making their mark in Strathcona’s business district, drawn to the inspiring creative culture and vibrant multicultural neighbourhood. (The prime location doesn’t hurt either, situated just minutes east of Main Street and the downtown core, and steps away from Vancouver’s historic Chinatown.)
For Thorp, who recently opened the locally minded Belgard Kitchen within The Settlement Building and will be launching craft brewery Postmark Brewing under the same roof this June, finding a space in Strathcona was a lucky break. “For the licensing we required, we were confined to industrial land and there isn’t a lot of it left. We looked at a space near Olympic Village, but then just fell in love with The Settlement Building.” Thorp had worked in the area with a previous business venture, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to rejoin the community. “This is one of the last places in the city where you can get such high value for a fair cost,” he notes. “I love Railtown. It’s young, it’s entrepreneurial, and there’s always something interesting happening down here.”
The Settlement Building is in good company, sharing the neighbourhood with big Vancouver names like Aritzia (their head office is on Railway Street) and Herschel Supply Co. Union Wood Co. has a workshop just down the street, where they make custom wood furniture and sell vintage decor; JJ Bean bakes its famous, oversized muffins in its commissary kitchen by the railroad tracks; Endeavor Snowboards designs vibrantly patterned boards in a converted, historic warehouse around the corner. HootSuite got its start here, too—today another tech company is in their original space. Food options, like culinary hot spots Railtown Cafe & Catering and Ask for Luigi, are popping up everywhere (good news for the lunch crowd).
And among all these start-ups and fresh ventures, there’s a rich history of commercial endeavors: the area was first settled in the mid-1800s and the longest running known business has existed for nearly 100 years. All told, over 500 businesses populate the area, making it one of the most stable and celebrated Vancouver communities, where independent businesses come to thrive. It’s such a great, buzzing neighbourhood right now,” enthuses Thorp. “It’s been changing in a very positive way. You still have support here for the people in the area who need it, but the city has done a smart job of zoning the area and allowing businesses to come in too, without tearing down beautiful buildings to make condos.”
Explore the neighbourhood during the Strathcona Business Improvement Association’s Made in Strathcona public tour on May 31 and June 7—it’s your chance to uncover the inner workings of some of the city’s most interesting ventures with a sneak peek into how things are made, who makes them and where they’re made; and to see for yourself why businesses are growing and thriving in this diverse community.