Commercial Drive is a thriving, multicultural community that appeals to a spectrum of tastes without the domination of large corporations or the help of media publicity. “Commercial Drive is still very much community oriented,” says long-time store owner Bruce Shaw. “It has maintained its original character.”
That character has evolved over the last century. Prior to World War I, Commercial Drive was dotted with small, mostly British-owned shops. After World War II, a large influx of Italians, some Chinese and Eastern Europeans started to change the Drive. By the 1980s, the Italian community had taken over the area with 70 Italian restaurants, delis, cafés, and shops. The Drive became known as Little Italy. Though the Italian community is not as large as it was a decade ago, long-time café owner Lina Cristiano says that Italian culture has helped shape today’s Commercial Drive.
With the decline of Italian dominance, many ethnicities opened stores, including Greek, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, and Cuban. Chinese-born specialty grocer Kelvin Wong chose the Drive because he “liked the feeling” of the area and the people. Robert Ferguson, a resident of 16 years, says that the multiculturalism works fairly well. He describes the Drive as “the coolest spot in Vancouver, a kind of art and cultural centre.”
The Drive is also known for a variety of delicious eateries. More than a decade old, the McDonalds at First and Commercial was shut down in February 1999 because of poor business and local resistance to the corporation. “Commercial Drive didn’t want it,” said a local resident, Scottie Stewart, 29, “and there is better food to eat in the area.”