John Allison

Storefronts of Mount Pleasant

Living in a city, change is simply inevitable. But the pace of change around Mount Pleasant in the last few years seems totally unprecedented. The affordability crisis that has affected residential living around the city has now made its way into the commercial sector. Escalating property values mean more expensive leases and higher rents for small business owners. Since 2015 the central core of Mount Pleasant has seen a huge turnover with many longtime shops leaving the neighbourhood. Gone are the likes of The Foundation, John’s Jukes, Wang On Blinds, East Vanity Parlour, RX Comics, Hairkraft Studio, Scout Boutique, New York Novelties, the VGH Thrift Store, and Reno’s Restaurant. Of course new businesses have taken over these spaces as the neighbourhood continues to evolve. But, John Allison notes, “I’m sure everyone’s paying a lot more rent!”

That’s where the idea of the Mount Pleasant Storefront Survey came about. With so many stores, restaurants and shops that make up the cultural fabric of the neighbourhood disappearing it became clear they needed to be documented. I decided to forego the more popular high-end shops and chain stores and instead focus on the smaller more independent storefronts. The colourful and quirky rather than the chic and trendy. The project is organized into the four main retail areas of the neighbourhood. That being Broadway, Kingsway, and Main Street. Plus the area bounded by Cambie, Main, Broadway and 2nd Avenue which is referred to as the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area (and now Mount Pixel). Most of the photos have been taken since 2015. But there are many older images that go back as far as 2007 in the mix as well.

So what does the future hold for the neighbourhood? Undoubtedly even more changes are on the way as the Broadway Subway will be stopping at Main Street and Cambie Street in the next several years. This could be a real game changer as rapid transit could cause a huge spike in already soaring property values. The City’s decision to rezone Quebec Street in the Industrial Area will also see construction of office buildings in the 8 and 9 storey range. This will potentially bring thousands more people into the neighbourhood. So hang on to your hats, the Mount Pleasant that we know today could certainly look quite a bit different in just a few years time!


John Allison is a photographer and has lived in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood since 1988, originally hailing from Sackville, New Brunswick. After completing studies in commercial photography at the Dawson Institute of Photography in Montreal in 1985, he became a photographic printer after discovering he had a keen eye for colour. This culminated in the early 1990s with him being the printer for Jeff Wall’s backlit Cibachrome images.

After seeing a demonstration of Adobe Photoshop in 1992, John became an early adopter of digital imaging. He’s been using Photoshop since version 2.01, and over a number of years has used a variety of software including Fractal Painter and Live Picture. Allison had digital art pieces included on the official releases of Adobe Photoshop versions 4 and 5. His digital images have appeared in many magazines including Computer Artist, Photo Digest, and Photo Life. In 2002, he was the grand prize winner of the Digital Art show sponsored by Seybold Seminars in San Francisco.

With the introduction of better quality digital cameras in the mid 2000s, Allison returned to photography with a simpler more stripped down approach. Since that time he has been documenting the disappearing aspects of Vancouver, and Mount Pleasant in particular. A strong sense of place has always been a key component in his photography. An inspiration for Allison’s work is photographer Saul Leiter who once said “I take photographs in my neighborhood. I think that mysterious things happen in familiar places.”