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‘Hanging by a thread’: The push to save Vancouver’s heritage businesses

By Vancouver Sun |

Like all Vancouverites, RJ Aquino is accustomed to seeing the big blue signboards that pop up around town signifying a property may soon be going through a major redevelopment. The day he saw the sign on the 5100-block of Joyce Street, his “heart just dropped.”

That block is home to a cluster of independent businesses that are “like the connective tissue that binds the Filipino community, as spread out as it might be in the Lower Mainland,” said Aquino, chair of Filipino B.C.

Immediately north of St. Mary’s Parish, which offers regular Tagalog-language masses, and just south of the Joyce-Collingwood SkyTrain station, this block in Vancouver’s southeast corner attracts customers who live and work in several combinations of different Metro municipalities. Its regulars are largely, but not exclusively, Filipino.

A variety store and a greengrocer sell jackfruit, sweet spaghetti, milkfish, and other products that Filipino immigrants miss from their home country, and also provide services for them to send money to relatives there.

A trio of Filipino restaurants — Kumare’s, Pampanga’s and Plato Filipino — draw lineups of hungry customers seeking adobo, beef bulalo soup, and deep fried rabbitfish.

Pampanga’s owner Edith Malang recalls the fear and uncertainty that accompanied the appearance of the rezoning sign, about five years ago, promising a new condo tower where the old, unglamorous two-storey building housing her restaurant stands.

“You know who was more worried than I am? My customers,” Malang said. “They complained: ‘What will happen to us? We pick up food and travel back to New Westminster or Surrey on the SkyTrain. Where are we going to buy our favourite food?’”

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