This Reporter’s Notebook was originally published in Nanaimo This Week, your weekly local newsletter. This format is intended to share the reflections of our reporters.
This week I was invited to join Jacob Steiner, head of operations at Vancouver-based Steiner Properties Ltd., on a walkthrough of a prominent downtown property the company owns: the old Nanaimo A&B Sound building at the intersection of Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue.
Last year, I wrote about their plans to renovate and eventually reopen the building, which has sat empty since the iconic music store closed its doors in 2008. In response to the piece, readers wrote in to share their own memories of the store, from lining up outside the building in the cold for their famous boxing day sales, to funny “first CD” purchases and recollections of working there.
The company’s vision takes its inspiration from enclosed, open-air concept marketplaces with space for small businesses, much like Lonsdale Quay Market, Granville Island Public Market, or Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
Jacob’s grandfather is A&B Sound’s founder Fred Steiner, and the estate has retained ownership of the buildings that once housed the music stores. Over time, many of the properties have been carefully renovated into more mixed-use spaces; one development in East Vancouver will combine middle-income rental housing with commercial space.
Jacob says he has also been in talks with the city with an eye towards making the neighbourhood around the building more pedestrian and bike-friendly and hopes the city’s ongoing plans for the recently-expropriated Jean Burns site across the road can also potentially play a role in a more unified vision for the area.
I met Jacob and his ancient family dog Rudy around the corner at The Vault Cafe and we walked over to the property with Harry Jones, who works in commercial sales and leasing for William Wright Commercial in Victoria. Jones is on board to help with finding businesses that might be a good fit for the space and vice versa. As it’s still in the renovation stage, some businesses with specific requirements may even be able to have the space built to suit, he says.
We enter the building at the ground-level parking space on Terminal, through large garage-style doors that roll open; it was where customers used to pull up their cars to get stereos installed and has a nostalgic appeal for those who remember it. Though it smells musty, which is to be expected for a building that has been boarded up and empty for 13 years, it is in surprisingly good shape.
When I mention, with some surprise, that it looks pretty good, site supervisor Mike Lewis, who works for Montroyal Contracting, nods in agreement.
“It’s exceptional. There’s nothing wrong with this building,” he says, adding that the main work they’ve been doing is cleanup and demolition just to expose the structure and get it ready for the upcoming renovations. “All this beautiful red brick under here. It’s a gorgeous building.”
“Well, you never saw it in its worst state,” Jacob says to me with a laugh.
The vinyl floors have been pulled up to expose the concrete flooring underneath, some of which undulates under the different levels of what used to be a number of separate stores that were amalgamated into one. This will likely be some form of commercial space again, says Jacob.
Up the stairs, the second floor looks like a run-down artist’s loft, complete with brick walls and heavy wooden floors made of 2.5-inch tongue and groove truck decking. Up another small flight of stairs on what is technically the third floor with access from Wallace Street, Jacob says they plan to possibly have offices and possibly a daycare space.
“The two floors will be separate. It will feel like two separate spaces,” he explains, about the ground floor and the upper levels. In looking towards similar large mixed-use spaces, they found that separate floors weren’t especially accessible when connected by stairs. They’re also going to look at how usable the roof is for extra green space, he adds.
Back outside, Jacob says he agrees with the sentiment that this space could act as a catalyst to bring together the entire area and make it even more lively and connected.
Across the street up Commercial Drive has a historic, heritage-building area feel, while the area around the old Nanaimo A&B Sound could build its own identity by enhancing what’s already here, he says. With the Man Lee The Orient market at the other end of the parking lot and a variety of breweries like White Sails Brewing and Cliffside Brewing Co. up the road, it could even become a sort of Chinatown/brewery area, he muses.
Next step is to figure out what kind of businesses and organizations might want to lease the space, and begin renovating the building to suit.
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