My favourite part of travelling abroad is wandering around the street markets. This is where I score weird and wonderful mementoes and souvenirs beyond those made in China (unless I’m in China, of course). Last December it was the massive Marche aux Puce de Vanves in Paris, where I wormed my way through the aisles of vintage goodies from political poster art to servingware. But whether the stall market is in Paris or Kyoto, the real attraction is catching some of the local vibe.
The stall-marketplace is basically a foreign concept to Vancouverites — and most North Americans. Instead we have the mall. Portobello West bucks that trend. The expansive local artisans’ market sets up on the last Sunday of every month at the Rocky Mountaineer train station (just west of Home Depot on Terminal).
It’s the brainchild of Carly Smith, who missed London’s stall shopping experience after she moved here several years ago. The name refers to the Portobello district that has been thriving for the last century, except Smith apparently envisioned a monthly market that was less “flea” and more “artisan.” Not surprisingly, the concept is a hit with Vancouver’s under-appreciated community of artists whose options for setting up stalls on a regular basis has been limited to cramped quarters like Granville Island Public Market. Judging by the throngs of humanity at last month’s Portobello market, we’re fully embracing the stall-market culture.
Although the market leans heavily toward body fashions, I was wall-eyed by table after table of unique, very-West Coast home fashion items, from cushions to floor mats to vases and dishes, all created by locals.
Portobello West takes place in an airy, all-season venue but it’s not easy to get to without a vehicle. The VCC-Clark SkyTrain station is close as the crow flies, but there’s a long, dull walk around the rail yards to get there. Alternatively, shoppers can take transit to Main and Terminal and hoof it to the market — no fun in the rain — or wait for one of the free shuttle buses that stop at the SkyTrain station every 20 minutes around the opening hours of noon and 6 p.m.
Hopefully the city’s planning department sees the value of supporting a bustling home-grownartisan community and will provide some long-term solutions for ensuring the stall-market continues to thrive and is accessible to everyone. The next market is this Sunday. A toonie gets you in. See vancouver.portobellowest.com.
Carlyn Yandle is a Vancouver journalist with her own room-planning business, Home Reworks (www.homereworks.com). She dwells on urban-home issues every Thursday in Metro.