LAUTENS: West Van foodies foraging farther afield

Decisions, decisions. Today's topic: Should I expiate on the Quebec election? Or deplore lives and minds so impoverished that a losing hockey season triggers mass civic depression? Neither. Extra Foods at Park Royal Shopping Centre will close April 22. How and where West Vancouverites forage for food is bigger than large men chasing a small black object on ice.

Park Royal is kicking out Extra Foods and other nearby tenants to make way for yet another fancypants shop. Stupidly, some disappointed customers are abusively taking it out on the cashiers. Some employees are angry at the relatively short notice given last month, though aware a year ago the axe would fall some time. Of course the moneyed people responsible are insulated from such wrath.

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My well-informed Agent Jp3d7aJ says a plan for a north mall replacement fell through and predicts it will be at least two years before one is built.

Last weekend several smaller nearby businesses open on Saturday were shuttered overnight, including the Black Forest Delicatessen, formerly Van Den Bosch Patisserie Belge, once a Vancouver institution. Nearby Waggott Seafood had already closed.

Peter Black the butcher and the British Newsagent are just memories - the latter, providing the most lively and people-friendly corner in the whole centre, has been reborn in North Vancouver's pleasant Edgemont Village.

You may prefer the new, narrower White Spot - assuming you can reach it through the strangled traffic and construction - to its more characteristic building at Taylor Way and Marine Drive. I don't.

All part of the owning Lalji family's ambition to make Park Royal a regional, not just a West Vancouver, shopping centre.

In a harshly competitive business, Park Royal's Extra Foods definitely is your grandmother's somewhat dowdy 1940s-era supermarket - full disclosure, I own both Loblaw's turgid stock and corporate parent Weston's decent bonds - but it has its appeal. Such as the amazing bargain of a big loaf of French bread for a loonie or less (94 cents last weekend) that my millionaire friend Stan F. and I love; bananas a quarter cheaper than anywhere else; the well-regarded President's Choice line, including a big 300-gram bar of French chocolate for four bucks and breakfast cereals that compete flake-to-flake with Kellogg's.

Somewhere in the Internet world there's a Californian who is so "hopelessly addicted to President's Choice Memories of Szechuan peanut sauce" that she's required every Canadian friend to bring her a bottle or two when they visit.

And speaking of Szechuan, Park Royal southside Asian food-focussed Osaka has a zealous clientele. Attractive grocery, but not my choice - I tend to avoid looking into the eyes of lobsters awaiting a boiling death. People-level Kin's Farm Market has long been many shoppers' store of choice for produce. There's also a stratospherically upmarket grocery store in the south-side Village. I went there. Once.

The sensational West Van success is H.Y. Louie's yearold Fresh St. Market - also owners of Marketplace IGA at Marine and 25th - so cosy, inviting and friendly it hugs you when you walk in. Our table is regularly blessed with its delicate Dover sole, highly recommended. The Louie family has sold groceries for 111 years and their experience shows.

Hmmm. I wonder why town hall gave Fresh St. a fresh, handsome new setting as well - an extravagantly wide north sidewalk that squeezes vehicle traffic, with no pullout for buses. Part of Ambleside rejuvenation, I guess.

But local convenience enjoys a head start, and the Caulfeild Safeway continues to draw our own modest day-to-day patronage. I didn't set out to plug certain products, but why not? Safeway's Lucerne-brand yogurt at two 750-gram tubs for five bucks is far and away a value leader, and even more so Lucerne's old white cheddar cheese, at $1.79 per 100 grams, shames other stores' cheeses costing twice as much.

Can't give advice on top cuts of beef. Too rich for pensioners like me. Damn, another disclosure: Last fall grocery chain Sobeys bought Canada Safeway, and I own Sobeys bonds. Doesn't influence me.

You'd be surprised how much information feeding this column begins at this Safeway. (Haven't seen you for a while at the pet food shelves, Agent Hd55enM. What's new?) Of course West Vancouverites slip over the North Vancouver border to Jimmy Pattison's Saveon-Foods, whose strangely under-marketed Ganong chocolates from St. Stephen, New Brunswick whip all its familiar-brand competitors in quality and price, but seem to be sold only at Christmas. And my wife was knocked out discovering Loblaws City Market on Lonsdale. But for today it's enough to focus on West Van.

A belated standing ovation for West Van's parks and recreation people for the grand children's play area thoughtfully designed and rebuilt at John Lawson Park. A sailing ship, a slide or two, a train that almost toots "choo-choo". .. it's a big draw even on winter days.

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