Damien Bryan: Produce Row, Vancouver’s hidden treasure, worries about its future when viaducts come down

Damien Bryan: Produce Row, Vancouver’s hidden treasure, worries about its future when viaducts come down

As a next step, the city is in the process of convening the Flats Arterial Community Panel, whose 42 residential and business members would recommend the arterial replacement. We look forward to participating in the process.
Produce Row, the hub of fresh-food wholesaling companies tucked away on Malkin Avenue, is unique.

The 14 businesses on this stretch of road in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood compete with one another — yet we’re all interdependent. On any given day, our companies might gently haggle with each other on prices. At the same time, if one business lacks a certain item the customer wants, it might refer the buyer to another business to fill the gap.

On Produce Row, our independent retail customers can truly one-stop shop, buying all the fresh produce they need, in one place, on one street.

We were founded in 1959 and our concentration in this area is what’s allowed us to flourish as a major economic, social and historic presence.

Some have called us a hidden civic treasure.

But our existence as Vancouver’s produce hub is at risk.

We’ve been under a cloud of uncertainty since 2015 when the City of Vancouver decided that the Georgia-Dunsmuir viaducts would come down. At least three streets, National, William and our home, Malkin, have been proposed as the replacement arterial route to the viaducts. (For the record, we support William as the arterial).

We don’t oppose the viaducts’ removal. But we do fear that if Malkin were chosen, all the benefits we offer together would disappear because we would disappear.

If Malkin became the new arterial route, up to 25,000 more vehicles would flood onto it daily. The street is already congested and, due to its narrowness, trucks must back up into loading docks. The added traffic would severely hamper our ability to operate. Because there’s no other land base the size of Produce Row in Vancouver to relocate to, we’d have to separate and our collective strengths would end.

Some of our other businesses would close outright because they rely so much on the efficiencies that Produce Row currently offers.

There would be much at stake if we disbanded.

Take the economic impact. We move a combined $700 million a year of healthy food in and out of Vancouver and generate $1.2 billion in spinoffs. We buy $125 million of produce from local farms and have a yearly payroll of $49 million.

We are close to our many customers, including greengrocers, Chinatown merchants, public markets, supermarkets and even the cruise ships that dock nearby. Were we to move, we’d travel longer distances and take more time to supply our buyers. That, coupled with an end to our competitive pricing, would spell higher food prices for the consumer.

Of note to our city and its climate-action goals, our carbon footprint would get larger if our food had to be transported further afield.

We employ 1,000 people who live in the community and walk, bike or take transit to work. It is unlikely that those who have lived here for a decade or more would uproot to a new location far away.

Produce Row gives generously to its communities. It supplies nourishing food to needy schools in the Downtown Eastside, to social enterprises, to hospitals and to area charities. The regular produce deliveries to neighbourhood and other worthy organizations would end if we relocated.

The end of Produce Row would mean an end to our rich history. In its early days, Produce Row hired unskilled Chinese immigrants when no one else would. Many have risen from entry-level jobs like floor sweeper to senior management.

Since the 2015 viaduct decision, Produce Row has attended endless community consultation sessions, hosted members of our civic government to see firsthand how we operate and tried to explain to the public all the benefits that would vanish if Malkin became the arterial replacement.

As a next step, the city is in the process of convening the Flats Arterial Community Panel, whose 42 residential and business members would recommend the arterial replacement. We look forward to participating in the process.

We look forward to making our case to save Produce Row.

Damien Bryan is general manager of Discovery Organics, one of the companies on Produce Row.