Vancouver is becoming a great shopping town, in spite of all the taxes, duties, and mysteriously higher prices on this side of the U.S. border. Suddenly, high-end retailers are building flagship stores here. A luxury outlet mall is opening near the airport. The much-anticipated Nordstrom is, at long last, opening on Granville Street. Every day seems to bring a new designer boutique to Robson, Burrard, or Alberni Street. Sadly, the funky old shops selling tchotchkes, clogs, roach clips, and magazines in foreign languages, well, they’re all vanishing. But I bet you’ll find something great to take home with you nonetheless. Just be sure to bring your credit cards and start by exploring these main shopping areas.
Once known as “Robsonstrasse” for all its German and Eastern European delis, bakeries, cobblers, and bookstores, this is now designer fashion central. Indeed, it’s been said that the intersection of Robson and Burrard streets gets more foot traffic than any other corner in Canada; the Tiffany store at the corner of Alberni Street reportedly has the highest sales per square foot of any of the jeweler’s stores. You can expect to find well-known high-end international brand names here, and even more down Alberni Street, which runs parallel to Robson.
The 10-block stretch of Granville Street, from 6th Avenue up to 16th Avenue, is where Vancouver’s old-money enclave of Shaughnessy comes to shop. Classic and expensive clothiers, and housewares and furniture boutiques, predominate. This is also the heart of the gallery district.
Not so long ago, pretty much all you could find here was tacky souvenir and head shops. Now Water, Cordova, and the side streets in between are filled with cute boutiques and local designer ateliers. Look for antiques, trendy decor pieces, modern furniture, First Nations art, and edgy local fashions. Be sure to visit the treasure trove (or piles of junk, depending on your perspective) that is Salmagundi West on Cordova Street, as well as the over-the-top fabulousness that is the concept store Secret Location on Water Street.
This is still the city’s antiques row, but gradually the Art Deco lamps and mid-20th-century dining sets are being edged out by local designers, trendy eateries, and contemporary decor shops. Still, you can find everything from Art Nouveau to country kitchen to fine Second Empire, and every store seems to have its own specialty.Granville Island
The Granville Island Public Market is a fantastic place to shop for foodie souvenirs like smoked salmon, handmade chocolate art, or dried BC morel mushrooms. But the rest of the island also features tons of great shopping, include arts and crafts, maritime gear, cookbooks, hats, jewelry, fancy paper, kitchen gear, and local wine, beer, sake, and spirits. Two places to check out: Kids Market, a kind of mini-mall for children; and Edible Canada at the Market, which features foodstuffs from all over BC.
The Golden Village—the commercial area around Richmond’s No. 3 Road, between Capstan and Alderbridge roads—is a little slice of modern Hong Kong, with four malls and countless small shops that cater to Vancouver’s Asian communities. Aberdeen Centre (4151 Hazelbridge Way; tel. 604/270-1234; www.aberdeencentre.com) and the adjacent Yaohan Centre (3700 No. 3 Rd.; tel. 604/231-0601; www.yaohancentre.com) are the best of the lot. Both malls have large food courts and specialty shops selling everything from cellphones to candied ginseng and the fake sushi you can often see in restaurant windows, plus Aberdeen Centre is home to Daiso, the crazy-awesome Japanese $2 store that’s worth a trip all on its own. Note that the malls are all on the Canada Line, so they’re easy to get to.