A short documentary on ad painting. I have a bit of a fascination with painted signs and advertising on buildings. Portland is a great city too see them, but even there it's rare to find new examples. (via Chewing Pixels)
How much better would most stores look if they got rid of the flashy vinyl and invested in some quality painting?
I've been thinking a lot about service. Women talk about the service they receive in stores all the time, from the casually offensive to the specifically abusive to the occasionally, all too occasionally going beyond the call of duty. If you're a man in a women's clothing store, and you don't have a scowl on your face or seem like a jerk having the worst day of his life, you'll be treated like a a bit of a fanciful oddity - not quite a unicorn, but close.
Forcing a man to go shopping, advertising would have us believe, is to inflict a more painful experience than having hair plugs implanted through your rectum. If a man has to spend more than a minute in any store not selling power tools he'll immediately go into a sulk so deep and profound as to verge on the suicidal. A man would rather hide in a pile of shit overnight than suffer through a shopping trip with his wife or girlfriend. And I suppose for most men this could be true.
I genuinely enjoy shopping. Or, more to the point, I like stores, which I tend to see as small, less cerebral museums. Rarely have I considered what kind of service I've been getting, except to note that when I dress the part in certain stores I immediately get more attention. But is attention necessarily service?
I devised a plan to find out what kind of service a man can expect to get (or at the very least, this man) from a range of stores. I chose Winners, Club Monaco, and a high-end store I'll call Lux. I didn't tell anyone I was doing this, so I don't have anyone else's experience with which to compare - this is just an account of mine. One final note: bad service can be attentive, in the same way that good service can be at a remove. This depends largely on the store but perhaps more importantly on the shopper's mood. I went into each store fairly blank, by which I mean I was neither hungry for attention or wanting to be left alone. I let the store dictate.
Similar to what I wore.
For those who don't know, Winners is a discount chain that carries overstock and out of season "designer" clothes. Their definition of designer is so loose as to be meaningless, with Tommy Hilfiger playing a prominent role. The stores are usually quite large, the size of your average supermarket, and lit like a space station. There are no shadows, anywhere. Walking through the front door I couldn't see a single staff member, though they are easy to identify with their blue, Walmart-esque vests. No one was attending the men's section, but I suppose they need less staff since they're not bogged down with sizes - whatever is on the floor is what they have. I managed to walk every aisle without being engaged once, which in a store like Winners might not be a bad thing. But when I thought of a question to ask I couldn't find any employee that didn't seem completely occupied in another task. I eventually ended up asking someone in the change room.
Me: Do you know if these jeans will shrink?
Employee: Most jeans shrink. It just happens.
Me: These ones say pre-washed.
Employee: I don't really know.
A stupid line of questioning, perhaps, but not completely unlikely for someone who doesn't follow clothes the way we do (here I make assumptions about you, the reader.) The problem with a store like Winners is since none of the stock is directly connected to the company, there is no onus on the staff to know anything about it. You get cheaper prices but no information. When I asked if they could check for another size on the rack it took them five minutes to find someone to do it. When he came back he admitted he had forgotten what he was looking for.
Now owned by Ralph Lauren Club Monaco was once a Canadian success story, building an empire on their ubiquitous crest sweatshirts. (I recently found one in small at Value Village. It dwarfed me. I have no idea how I wore them in high school.) The stores tend to be minimal, which is code for built by IKEA - wood shelves, white walls, and well-displayed clothing. Club Monaco is pretentious to a fault but also one of my favourite brands. Beggars can't be choosers.
Unlike Gap, Club Monaco rarely employs greeters; nonetheless I was greeted twice before I even really entered the store. The clothes have distinct sections and, as this was a larger downtown location, each section had a different employee, each of whom greeted me again. By the time I had made my way to the back of the store I had been greeted five times. Was this strictly necessary? No, but it wasn't intrusive either. Just a quick hello - no questions as to how I was doing, or what I was looking for, or where I was going after. More an acknowledgement that I had entered their space.
I picked up a pair of pants. I picked up a sweater. When I picked up a shirt a salesperson came over so smoothly I think she may have been watching me and asked if she could start a room. Three items is the signal I guess. During changing she asked how it was going once, whether I needed another size, and when I left how it had all worked out. Even though I didn't buy anything the staff were certain to say goodbye at the door.
While there are many places to spend thousands of dollars on a t-shirt in Vancouver, I chose Lux for its size and selection. Perhaps everything you need to know about Lux can be summed up in these words - it has pillars. Many, many pillars. I tried to keep an open mind going in but I'll be honest - even before I became interested in clothing I didn't like Lux, and now that I am I still don't like it. But to the best of my ability I pushed these thoughts aside and went in.
Saying the staff in Lux ignored me might be an overstatement, since that would imply they actually saw me. I went into the men's section and started browsing. I picked up a pair of $850 pants and looked around, my expression indicating that I had a question. No one looked my way. I walked into the middle of the store and stood there with my pants, looking lost. No response. I went and stood by what I think were the change rooms, although I could be wrong.
They might have just been a series of doors. Only when I actually approached a staff member and said excuse me did they even seem to notice I was there. If I had been on fire they probably would have called 911, but wouldn't have wasted the effort on water unless I posed a danger to the clothing.
What this tells us about stores
At the risk of making gross generalizations with very little factual basis, I offer this bit of pop-psychology. Winners, and stores like it, treat the stuff they sell as a commodity, like gasoline or rice. They offer you some cheap, supposedly premium gas, and in exchange you don't ask them to do really anything. Winners doesn't care about what it sells; it assumes you want what it has, and treats you accordingly. Lux is like a country club that you can visit, but without a membership don't expect to play a game. (And really, please don't visit either. Appearances and all that.) Club Monaco, while by no means a perfect store, is one I find myself going back to time and again. It's not just the prices, although they are relatively friendly, or the general aesthetic, which roughly matches my own with a few less skinny white jeans. It's that the store seems truly appreciative of your business. The people there want you to shop there, and when you leave they want you to look good. In my mind that defines a good retail experience.
I think I received pretty crappy service from both Winners and Lux, albeit for very different reasons. In neither case did it seem being male played any role whatsoever. By far the best service I've ever received, as hinted at earlier, is when I've been shopping in women's stores for gifts. If your man thinks he doesn't like shopping, send him on a lone journey one time to your favourite store.
Over the last few months two of my favourite places to shop closed down. Duthie Books was a Vancouver institution, the first place I bought a book when I came to Vancouver, and a fixture on 4th Avenue. Unfortunately the boom and bust of bookstore chains left Duthie with only one store, and now it too is gone.
Jonathan + Olivia carried all my favourite brands I can ill-afford, which may be part of the reason it had to close its Main Street location. But I have to feel that the price-point was less an issue--similarly-priced Roden Gray continues to chug along--than the lack of appetite in Vancouver for fashion-forward brands. Now I'll have to travel to New York for my Engineered Garments.
Goodbye Duthie Books and Jonathan + Olivia.
The 2010 Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver on February 12. Chances are if you're coming you've already scoured online resources, flipped through a Fodor's or two, and mapped out a rough eating/shopping guide for all that downtime between biathlon and curling.
But those guides, for all their good intentions, are probably steering you clear from any place where you might have a little fun. Your most memorable meals didn't occur in some Zagat-rated pod, and that jacket you've worn for ten years wasn't purchased at The Bay. It would be a shame to visit Vancouver and only go where the Olympic organizers want you to (i.e. West of Cambie).
Note: all of these choices and more are included in a Google map. Scroll to the bottom.
Great location, good grub, excellent selection of beer. Pretty much the perfect place to drink.
A recent Macleans article articulated what many of us have been mumbling about for some time - Canada, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, is a bit of a retail ghost town. Like George Clooney's character in O Brother Where Art Thou who only wants Dapper Dan pomade, we're two weeks from everywhere. That said, Vancouver is still home to its fair share of fine retail establishments, gentleman's clothing-wise.
(Normally Jonathan + Oliva would be on this list, but unfortunately they closed their doors on January 30. My one and only article by Engineered Garments is from there. The Toronto store is still open, and they'll be opening an online shop soon.)
Mr. Lee's General Store and Haberdashery -109 East Broadway
Written about recently on this here blog. Such a nice little store.
Welcome Home, Eugene Choo - 3683 Main Street
In the heart of the Main Street shopping district. A.P.C., Steven Alan, Rogues Gallery, Pendleton.
Gravity Pope - 2203/2205 West 4th Avenue
The best shoe selection in Vancouver. Expensive but beautiful clothing next door.
The Block - 350 West Cordova (Gastown)
Fred Perry, Dunderdon, Filippa K, Filson.
Pulpfiction Books - 2422 Main Street
Like the record store in High Fidelity, only with books.
Caffe Artigiano - 763 Hornby Street (multiple locations around Vancouver)
Most reliable place to get great coffee. A barista from this chain has won the Canadian National Barista Championship since the competition's inception.
Cafe Medina - 556 Beatty Street
Opened by the good people of Chambar next door. Serves perfect Belgian waffles (and various breakfast skillets and fry-ups) which are a sublime way to start the day...or afternoon.
Little Nest - 1716 Charles Street
Excellent for breakfast or lunch, and of particular interest for parents with small children. Genuinely kid friendly - has play area, toys, colouring items. That aside, the food is spectacular. Arrive early - fills up quickly and kitchen closes at 3.
New Mitzie's - 176 E. Pender Street
Sometimes you want your omelette to just be eggs and cheese, your hashbrowns shredded greasy potato, your coffee black water. This is the place. Service borders on the familial - just a nice place.
There are, easily, 100 quality locations for lunch in Vancouver. It would be tempting to simply give up and head for the nearest McDonalds (certainly the IOC want you to do this. Ka-Ching!) Do not do so under any circumstances. Eating at a McDonalds in Vancouver is like staying in the Park Hyatt Tokyo and sleeping in the furnace room.
You want...Japanese noodles:
Motomachi Shokudo - 740 Denman Street
Menya Noodle - 401 West Broadway
The only slight against either restaurant is they aren't open at 2AM, the prime ramen eating hour. But either restaurant will satisfy even ardent ramen fans.
You want...Vietnamese sandwiches:
Truong Giang - 392 East Hastings Street
(banh mi - image copyright)
Chances are people are telling you not to go anywhere near East Hastings, and sure, it is the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. But if you like banh mi, the unparalleled Vietnamese sandwiches prepared on French baguettes, you have to go to Truong Giang. Brilliant. It helps that its run by the nicest people on earth.
You want...sandwiches (other):
Finch's Tea and Coffee House - 353 West Pender Street
Crowded, busy, excellent. Perfect chocolate chip cookies. And the sandwiches - brie, walnuts, and grapes. Sounds insane. Tastes like eating a lesser god. If the lesser god was delicious.
There are so many Chinese restaurants in Vancouver and I always laugh when I see Best Of lists. How can you possibly begin to rank them? You could go to any of them and have a very good meal for less than seems possible, but if you only go to one...
Hon's Wun-Tun House - 1339 Robson Street
Hon's is neither my favourite Chinese restaurant, nor would I call it the best*, but it is definitely Vancouver's most iconic. It is an institution - I once met a couple from San Francisco who had gone to Hon's on their first date and came back once a year. It's the kind of place you can take 20 people at ten o'clock at night and they won't even flinch. Good, fast food with plenty of room.
(*Right now my nod would go to Prince on Grandview Highway)
Legendary Noodle - 1074 Denman Street
Guu with Garlic
Kitanoya Guu with Otoko Mae
838 Thurlow, 1698 Robson, 105-375 Water
Izakaya is quickly becoming Vancouver's regional cuisine, despite the fact it originated in Japan. A constant influx of tourists and language students has brought this Japanese bar food to Canada, and we are all the better for it. While you're likely to have a memorable meal in any izakaya restaurant I retain a soft spot for Guu et al., the first and arguably still the best example.
Good second option: Gyoza King - 1508 Robson Street
Nuba - 207b West Hastings Street
If you like Lebanese food, it's probably enough information for you that Nuba serves it. If you've never had it, Nuba is the place to go. Wonderful atmospheric location below street level. I recommend le grand feast, an ambitious plate for two (probably better for three people with one more dish). Also - Turkish coffee.
Moderne Burger - 2507 West Broadway
Burgers done right, cooked to perfection. Real fries piled big as your head.
Congee Noodle House - 141 East Broadway
To do this restaurant justice you should really be drunk or hung over. Not that you need inebriation to make the food palatable, but the experience isn't complete unless you're either buzzed or regretting it. Nothing on this menu comes out looking pretty. All of it is good.
While Main and Broadway has been a shopping destination for several years now, chances are I never would have come across Mr. Lee's General Store and Haberdashery if not for the recommendation of dedicated reader Siong Chin. Tucked into the ground floor of the Lee building, Mr. Lee's (no relation) offers a well-curated selection of men's goods, from bags to magazines to shaving accoutrements.
What sets Mr. Lee's apart from other stores with similar offerings, and hopefully keeps them in business, is the dedication of their vision. The entire store communicates the simple message that these are the things the owners like, and to hell with whether or not the items make any sense. And while the enterprise screams hipster supply store, who cares? They sell nice things, things you'll want to buy.
Stumptown Coffee - Mr. Lee's is the only place in British Columbia where you can get this Portland, Oregon coffee, and it's worth every penny. Easily the best coffee I've ever had. Go for the Holler Mountain.
The Hillside Chambray Scarf - If paying $80 CAD for a cotton scarf seems a lot to you, may I point you to Wendy B's article on manufacturing. (Please note, this is not aimed at anyone for whom $80 is genuinely too much for a scarf. Times are tough, people have children, etc. This is simply to point out that $80 is not too much for THIS particular scarf.)
Beckel Canvas Bags - A nice alternative to Filson, which they also sell, and they're made entirely in the U.S.A.
No, this isn't a shop you'll buy something from once a month, apart from the coffee, magazines, and shaving equipment, but if we want to live in a city with nice things we need to be willing to pay for them. So give H&M and Zara a rest and pick up your next pair of gloves from Mr. Lee. (If you tell them Thom from the The Sunday Best sent you they'll get very quiet and then slowly walk into the back of the store. Then you can steal whatever you were trying to buy - instant 100% rebate.)
[The new banner and badges are by upcoming graphic designer SharonJMah [at] gmail [dot] com.]