A Shopping Mecca

Granville Island is one of Vancouver’s most treasured neighborhoods

By: Suzie Rodriguez

Breathtakingly beautiful and crammed with fun things to do, for the past three years Vancouver has been voted “Best City in the Americas” by readers of CondeNast Traveler. Always popular, this waterfront metropolis has evolved in recent years into a super-hot destination that offers everything from old-fashioned elegance to cutting-edge modernism, along with plenty of outdoor adventure, world-class dining, big-name entertainment and couture shopping.

Among the biggest draws of late is 37-acre Granville Island. Just off the southern edge of downtown and beneath the Granville Street Bridge, the island draws 12 million annual visitors (71 percent of them from outside British Columbia). Since the late 1970s, the old factories and warehouses of this one-time industrial area have been gradually transformed into an imaginative and high-spirited mix that includes a giant culinary market, shops, galleries, entertainment venues and casual eating spots.

The result is so appealing that two years ago Granville Island was named one of the “20 Best Neighborhoods in North America” by New York-based Project for Public Spaces (other neighborhoods on the list include San Francisco’s North Beach and Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia). The same group later named Granville Island as one of 60 among the “World’s Great Places,” along with Notre Dame Cathedral, Vietnam’s Cai Rang Floating Market, Sienna’s Piazza del Campo and the Spanish Steps in Rome.

The heart and soul of Granville Island is its superb Public Market. Housed in the gigantic shell of a former rope factory, it hosts more than 50 permanent shops and temporary vendors arranged in an open plan (no walls). Despite its immaculate and well-organized surroundings, the market offers all the heady excitement of a great covered food bazaar in India or Vietnam.

The market’s emphasis centers on two simple words: fresh and local. Multiple vendors offer a wide and artfully arranged array of garden-fresh produce everything from the sweetest, just-ripe peaches and berries in summer to tiny colored cauliflower and delicate Japanese eggplant in winter. The long glass cases of Oyame Sausage Company are jam-packed with the kind of charcuterie your clients last saw in Paris but it’s made from pigs raised nearby on hazelnuts, or (as with the lingonberry venison pate) local wild game and indigenous fruit. At the Stock Market you can pick up a quart of homemade demiglace and an astonishing array of just-made soups. Edible British Columbia sells take-home goodies from around the region: raspberry & rosemary seasalts from Greater Vancouver; flower-flecked shortbreads from the Fraser Valley; saskatoon berry jams from Okanagan. The Lobster Man can sell your clients fresh-smoked herring, salmon packed to take home, or just-off-the-boat oysters, clams, mussels, and of course lots of lobster.

Other food shops specialize in unusual or hard-to-find ingredients. At the tiny Thai Princess stand, Suratin Rianpracha sells curry sauces he prepares from the secret recipes of his mother. Sirops Cocktail Bar serves alcohol-free mixed drinks that you’d swear were the real thing. South China Seas offers everything Asian for the kitchen. A strong recommendation: the Granville Island Tea Shop, whose enthusiastic owners will introduce clients to rare items such as Organic Orchid Oolong, grown with orchids and harvested when the flowers bloom, or the shriveled Golden Peach Blossom that opens up dramatically when placed in hot water, setting a beautiful red flower afloat.

If your clients can manage to pull themselves away from the Public Market to explore the rest of Granville Island, they’ll find plenty to keep them busy, including restaurants and cafes, a bookstore geared to cooks, a wine shop specializing in British Columbia’s increasingly excellent vintages, outdoor performers, dozens of working artists in their studios, handmade furniture makers, art galleries and clothing boutiques. They can hop on boat tours or rent kayaks or bicycles, and visit shops and studios specifically intended for kids. Of particular interest: master shoemaker Ken Rice, who crafts handmade shoes from scratch; and Granville Eyeland, where clients can pick up unique eyeglasses designed by Klaus Sebok, who created many of Elton John’s most over-the-top specs.