Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 16 – Laura’s Coffee Shop

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

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Laura’s Coffee Shop. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Last summer I led a historical walking tour for the Vancouver Heritage Foundation called “Lower Mount Pleasant: industry, immigrants and institutions”. One of the stops on the tour was at Laura’s Coffee Shop – one of the last industrial coffee shops in the city.

Laura’s Coffee Shop is on the corner of W4th and Manitoba at 1945 Manitoba Street. It’s in a building that started as a house in 1905 which was later was converted into a commercial space (ca. 1926).

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Laura’s Cafe exterior & interior. Photos: C.Hagemoen

According to the 1905 City Directories, the first resident at 1943 Manitoba Street was Robert E. Thompson a storeman at Wood, Vallance and Leggatt, Ltd. (heavy and shelf hardware). In 1904, a building permit for a frame building was issued under his name for this property. Since the value of the building was only for $100, it is likely that this permit was for an outbuilding or a shed. Therefore, it is possible that the house was built after or before 1904. (There is a gap in the historic building permits for Vancouver from 1905-1908 – the records have been lost.) Thompson didn’t live there long, because the City Directory for the following year lists Walter Lofting, a butterman, the resident at 1943 Manitoba Street.

In 1926, new owner Thomas D. Knowles opens the Manitoba Confectionery at 1943 Manitoba St.  By 1927, Italian immigrants Domenico & Laura DeFilippo (sometimes spelled as DeFillipo) are now listed as living at 1943 Manitoba and son Samuel DeFilippo, a longshoreman, is listed at 1945 Manitoba. It looks like the recently expanded retail space (with living quarters) has now been given its own street address.

Domenico operated the corner grocery store here for almost 10 years before he died suddenly in 1936 (he collapsed while out walking with his wife near 4th and Ontario). Mrs. Laura DeFillipo took over at the helm at the corner store until her death in 1953.  Son Samuel (Sam or Sammy) then took over the family store business – he had been previously working as a taxi driver.  Sammy was also an avid bowler and he competed in many bowling tournaments in the 40s and 50s. He also ran Circle Bowling Alleys on Clark Drive at Kingsway which he opened in 1948 with partner Cyril Battistoni.

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Laura’s Cafe ca. 1978. Photo: COV Archives, CVA 786-23.10

In the 1960s, Sammy converted the grocery store into an industrial coffee shop and named it after his beloved mother Laura… what a good Italian son!  It has been serving breakfast and lunch to the workers in the area ever since.  Sam DeFilippo died in 1996.

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Classified ad for a waitress at Laura’ Cafe. Source:The Province July 3, 1965.

Laura’s Coffee Shop is one of the few “industrial coffee shops” left in the city. These popular-priced eateries could be found in industrial areas all around the city like lower Mount Pleasant. I can imagine workers from the Alsco Laundry building across the street frequenting Laura’s. These coffee shops would be open early (for pre-work breakfast) and all through the working day, Monday to Friday. They were reliable, local establishments where single workers, who may or may not have kitchen facilities at home nor the inclination to cook could go and get two good hot meals a day.

Grilled cheese, fries and coffee from Laura’s.

Today, Laura’s Coffee Shop is a family-run,  friendly place that is busy serving ‘greasy-spoon’ style meals to lower Mount Pleasant workers (now more tech-based and less factory-based) and beyond – they also deliver via Skip the Dishes! Laura’s is also open Saturdays.

As part of the Vancouver Courier’s Vancouver Special neighbourhood series, Heritage Vancouver’s Anthony Norfolk discusses the residential, commercial and industrial heritage of Lower Mount Pleasant, while sitting down at Laura’s Coffee Shop in this video from 2013.

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 7 – Federal Store

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Federal Store, E 10th at Quebec St. June 2019.

Last month, The Federal Store (2601 Quebec Street) celebrated its 3rd Anniversary. Owned and operated by Chris Allen and Colette Griffiths, in 3 short years, the Federal Store has become a much-loved community gathering space and a very welcome addition to the neighbourhood. The “Store” has animated this corner of Mount Pleasant – compare the photos above and below – and is a great example of a human scale streetscape: with places to sit outside, garden greenscapes, and the re-use of an older building.

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Google street view of The Federal Store (then a corner grocery) in 2009.

The history of the building that houses the Federal Store is much longer and is an interesting one. The building was built in 1922 by John Coville for his wife Hannah and together they opened the Coville Bake Shop. Coville went from builder to baker. From about 1910 to 1920 Coville worked as a builder, responsible for many structures in and around Mt. Pleasant and the rest of the city. In 1910, He built the Frontenac Apartments (designed by R. A McKenzie) at 11th & Quebec. In fact, Coville along with his partner Dr. Coy developed the entire west side of Quebec between 11th and 10th Ave – building 4 houses in addition to the 3-story Frontenac. Like the current owners of the Federal Store, the Coville’s lived and worked on the same block.

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1927 Fire Insurance Plan- Shows Coville’s bakery and the other buildings he built on Quebec St.

In the 1921 Canada Census, John (54), listed as a contractor, and Hannah Coville (50) and their 3 children: Stuart (25), Cecil (19) and Walter (14) are living at 2605 Quebec Street. The Coville’s operate the bakery together for about 5 years.

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Main entrance of Frontenac Apartments at 2649 Quebec Street. Photo: C. Hagemoen

After John Coville dies in 1928, George A. Barrowclough (photographer and Mount Pleasant resident – more about him in a future LHAC post) takes over the proprietorship of the Bakery. But this only lasts about a year.  Around 1930, the bakery closes and the store is converted into Kenny’s Korner Grocery by Ken I. Lambert. He owns the property through the 1930s. There are a variety of owners and name changes in the 40s and 50s like 1945 -A. Faries Grocery; 1950 -J&M Confectionary; and 1955- Ming’s Grocery.

The name changes to the Federal Grocery in 1964 under the management of Bertha Swartz. Save for the first female owner,  Hannah Coville, with Ms. Swartz now at the helm, so begins a long history of predominately female ownership of this corner retail space.  The Federal Grocery is named after the Federal Building (125 east 10th) that opened kitty-corner to the store in 1963; possibly in the hopes of attracting civil-servant customers.

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Detail of plan showing the outline of buildings at Quebec and 10th Avenue in 1976. Source: COV Archives, LEG1493.10a

In 1971, current property owners, Mark and Fong Kwok take over the Federal Grocery and reside at the same address. By 1978, the Kowks are living at one of the townhouses along 10th Ave. attached to the store building, but the store is being run by someone else. The Federal Grocery closes in 1985 and a year later reopens as the Federal Store with Fong Kwok listed in the City Directories as the proprietor. By this time the Kowks now own the entire retail and residential property. While the final corner store operator, (another woman) was moving out in February 2015, serendipitously Chris and Colette happened to be walking by… the rest is another story.

For almost two years the store is closed while Colette and Chris go through the hoops of renovations and permits (again, another story) until November 2016 when the new Federal Store as a café/bakery cum grocery store à la Le Marché St. George and The Mighty Oak opens. And now, thanks to Federal Store baker Cole Friske, this space has come full-circle moving back to its bakery roots (and then some) in just under 100 years.

I had a chance to chat with Colette earlier this fall about the appeal of using a historic space for their new business:

“It felt just so much more meaningful to be a part of something that had such a long history, serving the neighbourhood and being a space. My Grandpa used to be the fire captain at the fire hall on Quebec [Street]… and he had his memories back in the 50s or 60s, I can’t remember exactly when it was, of coming down to the store and buying a carton of eggs and milk and bringing it back up to the boys [at Firehall No. 3] so they could cook dinner for everyone. And the idea that my Grandpa has been in this space for that long is great.”

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Inside the Federal Store. 2019. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Part of the attraction is uniqueness – these smaller independent businesses (often in historic spaces) offer some relief to our increasingly homogenous cityscape. When you enter one of these local corner grocery/café’s you know where you are… when you enter a chain store you don’t. Each space reflects the creative sensibility of its owner/owners, and in turn, they respond to the needs of the neighbourhood and the neighbours they serve.

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Ever since they opened, the Federal Store has hosted a variety of pop-ups! Like this 2019 Holiday Pop-Up Series.

Modern takes on the corner grocery store, like the Federal Store, have become hyper-local gathering spaces – encouraging an old-fashioned sense of community by bringing neighbours together. Something that citizens (and city planners) need to heartily encourage and foster more of in this city.