Mom and Pop Shops anyone?

In many of my visits to community consultations, I heard the desire for mom and pop shops. This, in light of the impossible hikes in rent, seemed to me like one of those paradoxes that lie in the platform of community consultations. City staff are honestly interested in hearing what residents want. Residents honestly share their interests.

Then property owners, especially owners of ones in desirable areas, raise the rent.

Terasen invested in transforming some crosswalks along Commercial Drive into Italian themed artwork.

Can mom and pop shops survive the scale of development and gentrification of a city? Typically, such venues are more expensive than your 5-minutes-drive-away Safeway or even cross-the-street “Medium Scale Neighborhood Market”. These chains have much more variety and the convenience of… anonymity. Yeah, some of us still yearn for mom and pop shops.

I’ve been shopping along Commercial drive for roughly 15 years now. What was called The First Ravioli Store is now Easy Shop. With the significant change of ownership and inventory, we still find our fresh pasta and favorite cheese there. Many mom and pop shops are really a sad and tired corner in retail streets. Typically their operators/owners struggle to make ends meet. After First Ravioli changed hands some years ago, I was impressed to see the efforts the new owner took to revitalize the space. And still, in a quickly changing street like Commercial drive, this corner store always seems to be at least one step behind. Jawid, the friendly owner of Easy Shop removed the sliced meats we occasionally got at First Ravioli. We still find our fresh pasta and favorite cheese there.

Another component in the Terasen street touch ups.

If you had to grade my enthusiasm with mom and pop shops, I’m probably on the lower side of the scale. But the community consultations I went to, made me curious to see what it really means for me to support this strange little beast.

At one point, early in his time there, I shared with Jawid a personal thought. That, to my surprise, made him grateful for my insight and generosity.

A few months later I shared with him my concern with finding the same cheese we were buying from him, significantly cheaper somewhere else. Before doing that I was struggling whether to bother talking with Jawid about the issue or not. He thanked me profusely and the next week – lo and behold – informed me that he talked with his supplier. We could continue buying our favorite cheese at Easy Shop.

Now, as part of my experiment in fundraising, I am handing my notes in places I visit. I casually approach people I know and share with them my call for support. Without expecting much, what drives me in this is a simple thought: If I don’t ask, how will people know?

The canopy, the cash register at Easy Shop and the link to my fundraising page:

Jawid, is the first shop owner I shared my fundraising run with. On my visit there today, my note was proudly posted on the cash machine. That was so heartwarming. I asked him if I could take some photos and promised to post them on my social platforms.

Mom and Pop Shops anyone?

This is the fourth in a series of posts I’ve shared prior to the event on June 23. If you are interested in  stories like this, click “Follow by Clicking Here”, on the right side bar.


Embracing death as a joy of life

On my recent visit to Israel I had the honor of escorting my dad through some of his last days in life. I’d shared my thoughts and insights with my family, as part of our daily updates. The first one below was written early one morning following a few days of traveling and social encounters. About a week after my return to Canada my dad embraced the hold of death and passed away seven days later, Saturday, November 21 2015. My eulogy below was written in response to our last conversation.

I am grateful to have family and friends supporting us in this process of growth.
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Each of us carries an invisible load of baggage. This includes what I think of the other and what I think people think of me. My conversation with Gali, my niece, raises the notion that some issues might not require discussion. Tamar, my sister in-law, knows in advance what would offend her. We face a daily effort of dismantling this baggage of landmines and firebombs.

In one early moment of the Sterns’ visit to Vancouver last year, I waived a threatening finger in front of Yohanan. His response made me wonder what exactly happened there. My parents’ stay with us, transformed into a realization, that we can all enjoy it. With my raised finger I’ve exclaimed “If you don’t trust my good intentions and Yardena’s good intentions, we have no communication.” Yohanan jumped from his spot at the other side of the table. He then charged into the bedroom. A few seconds later we could hear him screaming at the tenant in Israel to pay his rent.

I am fascinated by our use of the comic in relating to life. Laughter relieves our breath and introduces a healthy dose of oxygen to our brain. In embarrassment and hardships it seems like laughter gives me a break. Instead of sliding into depression, laughter allows me to remove the tough issue from its threatening context. It doesn’t always succeed. But a small story from my acquaintance with Gerstman, one of Yeheskely Clothing’s suppliers, keeps inspiring me to employ laughter and insist on it.

Yoav, the designer I used to work with, was Gerstman’s tenant for a few years. He’s told me that they’d always had pleasant conversations. Some of them even included stories from the landlord’s past as a Holocaust survivor. The man, bearing a smile on his face, was always happy to share amusing anecdotes. In one of Yoav’s encounters with Gerstman the gentleman had confided: “So, in the concentration camps have I stopped laughing? Of course I had laughed.” This was enough for me.

Yohanan Stern has been collecting clown figurines for years in a variety of forms: paintings, dolls and other creations. Some of them are sad, some are smiling. They all, in my view celebrate the light hearted side of our personality; the part that helps a healthy perspective of life. The sad clown might be mumbling “What’s the point in being pessimistic; life’s hard enough.” The happy one is saying “Every situation entails a glimmer of bliss; the joy of life stems from that.” You can notice the two clowns manifested in my dad. Occasionally I cringe embarrassedly from his fooling around. In the rest of time I tell myself that I am the same.

So where is Yardena in all of this? Let’s not talk about Yardena. Taking care of Yohanan is currently top priority. She chunks a couple of pain killers in the morning and the day is settled. Never mind that their influence is receding. Just make sure they are Extra Strength. My effort in finding out how I might be the same gives me a headache. There you are, I made it! Now I can relax. We agreed that with all the difficulties we have a history and present of cooperation. In all of us, the good intentions overcome our frustrations. True, I know how to be turned off by Yohanan. And the point is that I am the one who is turned off. The other side in the story is not guilty of my being turned off but, alas, he is part of it.

So here is an idea for a scientific research in sociology: our life is built upon reducing our amount of turn off from people, especially those closest to us. Once I have already told mom that my success in life results “thanks to you as well as in spite of you.” And then, doesn’t Meni turn me off? Sharon? Erez? Ah,… Erez doesn’t turn me off. And Yardena understands immediately. At the same time she is dead wrong. Erez doesn’t turn me off because we hardly speak to each other. Yardena counts the ‘hardly’. YarOn counts the ‘speak’. Sharon comforts us in saying “that’s OK.” And Meni? He stopped reading in the first paragraph. And that too is OK.

This update has no immediate concrete implications. It is an intermediate summary in my line of impressions from what’s up in the family. I am trying to bring to light some thoughts in hope that they allow a small window into space and a breath of fresh air. In the tough and serious situation we are all experiencing, the suffocating feeling of hopelessness might sabotage the delightful effort we are all involved in. My aspiration is that these words manage to amuse the moment a bit, until the next day.
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Indeed we ate the last of the humus on your last day. Like some kind of a Hanukah miracle where you were the sacrifice. And we will continue to make humus and bake pitot (pita bread) and think of Nablus Gate, the falafel that we had to bring from the adjacent stall and the coffee that the guy poured from the boil. Much of what I could know about you came to me indirectly. Like a side observation. Something I had said off hand turned out months later to be significant to you.

Your lust for life has always entailed a measure of frightened, somewhat childish concern. As my ability to express my impression in words improved, your desire to give and nurture overcame any insult. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn something out of this. Looking from within, our life feels almost boring. Why even my effort to extract family stories for your fiftieth anniversary confronted a variety of objections from its members.

But life goes on and the memory will play its part. Much of what I will hear about you will fill the void. “I am the strongest dad in the world,” I told the impressed boy one day. At the same breath I continued “and my dad is even stronger.” Every joke has a component of truth in it. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue the joke.

People Care

Imagine landing in Vancouver after a visit to a distant place. Is there anything missing here you’ve already seen elsewhere? Even the great things in Vancouver can benefit from fine tuning. How about issues that need fixing?

When Michael Geller invited the audience to share their ideas, his presentation finally delivered on its promise: 12 ideas on how to make Vancouver a healthier, friendlier, more beautiful and creative city. After the presentation, the number of audience members who waited to share their ideas was impressive. The video of the event will let you experience it as it was filmed. Here I will try to extract some of the points that raised my intrigue.


One of the last Mic holders at the question period was a foreign student. He charmingly confessed to riding the Skytrain without paying. He’s been doing that ever since he realized he could. No Skytrain official approaches Japanese looking riders to check their fares. His point was not to brag about fare evasion and definitely not to complain about racism. He would actually like to see in Vancouver systems similar to those he knows from Japan; systems that work.

“The world is a more complex place than we think”, Michael Geller informs us. That “world”, me included since 2002, is coming to BC and Vancouver in a rate higher than local society’s natural growth (Births – Deaths vs Immigration). This city can become better but might find itself sliding the opposite way. It’s not the first time I come out of a local discussion feeling like “Vancouver is a culture, about to be consumed and trashed like any other commodity in our world”.


Although Vancouver is sufficiently welcoming to new insights, it is also notoriously conservative and tied with too many restrictions. It’s not perfect – it’s changing. For some, it’s too much; for others it’s not fast enough. “Act quickly”, Michael urges. This tension between NIMBYism and impatient pressure for change can trash Vancouver. It is no one’s intention but it can certainly  happen.

Do we need to protect ourselves from a looming future or should we find the right mechanisms to improve what we already have? We could strive “to be like ______” (fill in the culture of your choice), but eventually we can work with what we have here. Introducing new ideas, locally sourced as well as imported, is an embraceable (i.e. worthy) challenge.

There’s a difference between seeing and looking, between looking and observing. In my own travels I used to “go to the non-exotic and look for the uncommon”, as Geller has suggested. What’s great about this approach is that you can apply it without even leaving Vancouver. Many of our side streets can be depressingly uninspiring. But as soon as you have an idea that inspires you to do something –  moving quickly should be your priority. Know your tools, be prepared and find the issues you really care about.


As Geller’s entertaining talk approached its conclusion, a layer of whining started to wrap it up. “People care!” I blurted without really knowing what else to say. Initially I was a bit frustrated with the speaker’s delivery. The question period however, was the phase where our gathering truly justified itself.

“The World” is coming to Vancouver to get inspired. Part of it is coming here to stay. In doing so, That World is not only bringing ideas, but making them happen. Let’s open up to that reality and embrace what we already have.

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Michael Geller is an architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer with four decades’ experience in the public, private and institutional sectors. His lecture was performed at the SFU Harbour Centre on April 1 2015.

Your Inner Mars Bar

This is a story from when our daughter was about six.
Inbal heard me talk about chocolate when we’d finished dinner and learned to know that I was just talking about it. We were not going to have any.
Suddenly she just started crying and nothing really made sense. No matter what we said she kept crying and the tears, pouring out her eyes seemed like a leaking roof on a rainy night. In an effort to find a way out of the tragedy I told her (knowing it won’t work but what tha heck)
that I like sweets too. 
“I walk past the candy bars at Safeway many times” I told here, “There were occasions when I’d purchased a Mars Bar and enjoyed it. But in general, sweets are not healthy food and we try not to eat too many of them. It’s been quite a while now that I pass beside the Mars Bars and tell them:
‘today I am NOT going to eat you’.”
Inbal’s gaze changed from miserable weeping to compassionate curiosity:
“Next time when you don’t eat the Mars Bar bring it to me”.

And this was it. The crying stopped.
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The challenge of keeping our kids away from stuffing themselves is a complex one. This post is a side story to another one in response to the use of candy as reward in school.

Food for thought

Referring to my previous post – yes, using food as a tool to attract people to an event seems radical to me . Why?!

In one of my Crawls at the Vancouver East Side, I was intrigued by a set of tables designed by the artist whose studio I had visited. What intrigued me even more were the guy’s complaints about the public who didn’t seem to buy into the marvels of his piece’s ingenuity. At the time I wasn’t able to articulate what seemed to me to be his mistake. Maybe I still struggle with it.


The question does not lie in the degree of interest of your audience. The funny/sad thing is that probably my own interest in my own product’s marvels doesn’t really make a difference. That product could be a chair, a service or any activity. If I want my audience to buy into any of my offerings, I have a responsibility to engage them. When I think of engagement, it’s not about me; it’s not about you: it’s about our connection. The implementation process for the revitalization of Broadway East includes an impressive schedule for gatherings way into 2013.

However important the cause, if we fail to bring our stakeholders to the table, the void will be filled. The reality we are trying to change will be succeeded by another. Our aim is to bring benefit to all if not most. Without community participation the risk is that the benefits will be lost into the hands of a few. Reality sucks. Or does it?

Successful community consultation in the Collingwood neighborhood back in the 1980’s resulted in a development process that is appreciated and remembered to this day. It seems like in Vancouver’s urban planning, the aim is to achieve similar successful development processes in other areas of town. For that to happen, community engagement is just one part of the puzzle but is a crucial part. It is also a massive challenge.


At the individual scale, planning as a concept could be one of life’s biggest threats. Think of planning for a wedding; consider financial planning etc’. We like things to just happen to us in life; good things, that is. Many times though, procrastination is our first step when we embark on planning. Now try to lure a significant amount of people to help in planning A Neighborhood? “Oh, I have a hairdresser appointment” or, “Shawks, I forgot…” or just plain neglect.

Food does help. The Vancouver Design Nerds base any of their events on sharing food, drinks and on fostering a collegial atmosphere. I think they’ve built their success on a gradual and steady outreach to a growing audience of like minded people. In the case of a City sponsored, one-off, legally-binding (?) process like Broadway East’s revitalization, the set of challenges and opportunities is somewhat or maybe utterly different.

Which still doesn’t mean food is not a good option.

Which leads us back to asking more questions.

On that, later.


Landfill can strike a chord on the way to land use

In the past month or so, I’ve been trying to get a sense of the platform of community engagement. There’s been a few of them in various forms and formats that always raise the biggest question for me: how do you get people to participate in a valuable process that is beyond their immediate influence? East Broadway is currently the project I am most engaged in and the mystery is still unfolding.

Who Can Make It Happen

We use questions, at times, as a threat. Other times our questions are so perceived without our intention. Asking the right questions is both a matter of mindset as it is of context. This is probably why we should always keep asking them.

Community Outreach sounds like something politicians should be good at. But anyone trying to attract an audience will have to go through some sort of it before a room is filled with the desired energy. It’s always great to be involved in conversations that discuss ideas intended for actual implementation. The challenge is generating participation that is representative of the eventual community who is supposed to benefit from the change. The planning department‘s intention to have “input from all Mount Pleasant residents and business owners” is always at risk of staying unfulfilled. For the meeting of December 11th 25 people confirmed their attendance. In reality you work with what you have. I think we were eight including our facilitator Sylvia.


Rules for a storm? What if this title is read with rules as a verb? As long as it’s within your brain, storm as much as you want. Urban planning exists for productive results. It is a social art of balancing conflicting needs. Brainstorming is a much friendlier social engagement than the employment of riot police in civic confrontations.

The title for the evening was Good, Fast Cheap: First Moves to “Better” on Broadway East. An upcoming feature-length documentary illustrates what can be done with not only cheap stuff but dirt cheap stuff. Sylvia showed it to us before we started. I remember showing my family a photo of a woman in Calcutta  preparing cow dung cakes on a wall. My grandma was apparently appalled by what to me seemed like a fascinating illustration of ingenuity. Can we imagine people in Vancouver celebrating Christmas with lanterns salvaged from the landfill? The Moon Festival in Renfrew Ravine is not that alien to the concept. Are we necessarily looking for crazy ideas?

QEC StreetClosure

I love to hear someone say: “Oh, you can’t close Broadway! It’s an artery.” Well, it’s not that I have a desire to stop traffic on Broadway, but we sure can…, if we want to. Considering whether an idea can work or not, if we want it – we can make it work (“Yes, we can!“).

There is a risk with crazy ideas to turn people off from participating in community consultations. However, other people might be attracted to radical proposals and push for even more extremes. Then again, when residents feel something threatening to their lifestyle is about to happen they show up in droves. But do we need controversy to bring as many people to the table or something else? What is the balance? How to make 25 people signed up to an event actually show up? Give them food, Jocelyn said. Jocelyn is Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House’s Executive Director. This to me sounds radical enough.


silicone valley

Yaron David, a friend who lives in Amsterdam, is now working on putting up a line of pastries for sale through restaurants and other venues.
I wish him luck. There are many occasions where my own pastries got rave reviews. One of the best recipes comes from my grandmother who remembered it from her childhood in Czechoslovakia and passed it on to us, her grandchildren. Somehow I turned out to be the master in our family for this one. Some other recipes, I’ve picked through the years and turned them into signature masterpieces of my household. This hobby-on-the-verge-of-obsession is as far as I’m willing to go with cooking for others.
Food is such a treacherous field. We all need it. “Anyone can cook” as Chef Gusteau testifies. Not everyone wants to bother making the effort. (for those of you who haven’t seen the movie, please do yourselves a favour: Ratatouille). So when you want to turn food making into a business, you deal with satisfying no other than the human mouth. When I make a good cake and serve it to friends, they usually feel obliged to compliment. When you make a good cake and sell it to people, they expect to be entertained. My brother, Erez, seems to have struck the right balance between fine cooking and amiable entertaining. His home based dining service has been steadily gaining more clients since opening his business a few years back.
My own cooking stays non business oriented with an appetite for fun and playfulness. A while ago I came across a bunch of silicone muffin pans with various simple shapes. They reminded me that our pan at home was becoming a little rusty and needed to be phased out. The thought of using a muffin pan is not a compelling one to say the least. Therefore, when I saw the silicone pans, they looked like the perfect toy to inject some fun into the muffin making chore. Since then it seems like the market for silicone baking products has expanded considerably. On my recent visit to Israel I came across a shop (4 chef) that holds a nice variety of Silikomarts. Initially it was hard to choose between them but I could’t take them all. I still haven’t used the two new pans I had bought but they already make me smile whenever I see them waiting patiently on the shelf.
This is probably the right time to get into the kitchen and work.
Bon apetit!