Appeared in the North Shore News – April 7, 2016
Stunning blow to West Vancouver town hall’s Ambleside-Dundarave renewal vision (or fantasy): The Avant Gardener in the core 1400-block Marine Drive is shutting down.
After 28 years owner Darlene Sanders is holding a 30-per-cent-off closing-out sale and — romantically — is bound for new life and love on 14 acres of English soil.
The everything-must-go sale ends April 15. No one has come forward to buy the business as a going concern.
The wittily named Avant Gardener (how’s your French?) is just what Ambleside needs more of — beautiful goods, creatively displayed — if it aims to lure the rich residents of the most expensive real estate in the country, and to draw customers from a certain nearby expansionist shopping centre (see next item).
It’s strong on imaginative design and fine quality. Yet it is street-appealing and browser-friendly, entirely without the intimidating air of some up-market establishments that feel as if they make iPhone checks on your assets before you cross their thresholds.
Sanders herself is attractively smart and engagingly down-to-earth — appropriate for gardeners, to be sure — with roots (enough already with the horticultural puns!) in East Vancouver. She can’t speak too glowingly of her gentle sales assistant, Margaret Waddell — “a wonderful, wonderful woman, no pretense about it, honest, hard-working.” What a reference.
Now the storybook element. Or true-life fairytale for TV? Some 25 years ago Sanders met a couple who shared her gardening passion. When the wife passed away, Sanders and her now-widower friend kept contact with their enthusiasm for all things gardening.
She’s joining that friend, Maurice Foster, the owner of the 14-acre plot, a private arboretum in England’s garden county of Kent. Foster is a renowned British plantsman, holder of the rarest of English gardening distinctions, the Royal Horticultural Society Victoria Medal of Honour, attainable only through the death of a previous member: It’s restricted to just 63 living members — one for each year of Victoria’s reign. (I have a backyard I wish he’d look at.)
Trade has been brisk at the Avant Gardener. So are regrets, Sanders said. “There was an outpouring of affection this last week — ‘Oh no, we love the store, it has a soul, it’s different’ … ’’
But for the more hard of nose: This underlines Ambleside/Dundarave’s desperate need for more distinctive, imaginative, prosperous businesses — and for more parking, parking, parking.
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Poor Laljis. Shed a tear.
The family owns Park Royal Shopping Centre. And much else. Canadian Business magazine last year rated the Laljis Canada’s 26th wealthiest people — assets, $2,688,080,424.
But every square foot is money, and for 50 years freeloaders have occupied costly retail space in PR’s food court.
Enough’s enough. PR’s patience is exhausted. Last month its general manager sent them a letter ordering them to leave. If they fail to comply, “it will give us no alternative but to reach out to the West Vancouver Police Department.”
Who are these putative criminals? These undesirables inviting a paddywagon trip to the Crowbar Motel?
They are chess players.
Some people think they’ve been a charming part of Park Royal for those 50 years, when Britain’s Guinness family owned the centre.
The Laljis know personally about expulsion. Brothers Amin and Mansoor Lalji were among the Ugandan Asians — ethnically, East Indians — kicked out in the 1970s by monstrous Uganda dictator Idi Amin, furious that they dominated business and the professions.
The expelled could take only $500 each. But the Laljis were Ismailis, a communitarian Muslim sect that collects and lends adherents’ money — better than any bank. Vivid childhood memory: A photo in Life magazine of Ismailis loading jewels and gold on a scale balancing their then leader, Aga Khan III. And he was no lightweight.
The Vancouver Sun played this story big — top front page, pictures. Friend Bill X reported the chess closure was the talk of a gala he attended. My opening words weren’t sarcasm. You have to truly pity people so dollar-driven they don’t know there isn’t money enough to buy bad publicity like this.
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Easter in post-Christian Canada: The Province splashed an atheist organization’s opposition to Bible distribution in Abbotsford schools by the Gideons, even if parents consent to it. CBC Radio re-ran a profile of a Toronto area United Church minister who is a practicing, preaching, proselytizing atheist. Maclean’s rang in with a front-page teaser: “Did Jesus Really Exist?” I drily await these forthright media’s searching stories on other major religions and their leaders.
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Correction: No matter what you read here March 25, Dr. Sabrina Freeman was co-founder, with West Vancouver’s Jean Lewis, of the organization that became Medicare for Autism Now!
© Trevor Lautens, 2016