If I could name only one place that really screams “Nanaimo,” that place would be The Vault Café. Before moving to this city, I never thought I would step through the pink walls of what used to be an early twentieth-century bank and emerge into a bohemian paradise.
The space is eclectic to say the least. A themeless spread of art makes a gallery of much of the wallspace and mismatched vintage furniture spans the floor. The tall-arched windows and beautifully carved wooden beams of the former bank mesh seamlessly with the earthy tones and various plants that inhabit the space.
With good food, an even better atmosphere, and numerous art and culture-related events, The Vault has acted as a community crossroad in downtown Nanaimo, welcoming both artists and patrons from various walks of life.
Now, it’s gotten even better.
The Vault Bazaar, a collection of four showrooms, has opened above The Vault Café. Vault Skateboards, Scrap Gold, Search & Rescue Vintage, and Wyrd Wealth have become a hub for all things quintessentially Nanaimo. The space promotes community, unique visions, and multiple local businesses all at once.
I had the opportunity to speak with each of the showroom’s owners and gain some insight into their vision for the bazaar.
Skateboarding has picked up some serious speed in central Vancouver Island. The new skatepark built in Harewood just last year and a new park coming to Gabriola Island soon, indicate that skateboarding’s rekindled popularity is here to stay.
Skateboarders Matt Chesterfield and Jony Ruse saw the coming wave and thought it was about time South Nanaimo saw some of the action. With that, Vault Skateboards was born.
“There hadn’t been a focused skate community in the south end in, I don’t know, almost 10 years, so I kind of thought this was the time,” Chesterfield said in an interview. “COVID kind of provided a skateboarding explosion. We noticed that and kind of jumped onto creating this.”
Vault Skateboards has everything you need to keep your board in top shape, or to build a brand new one. Its selection includes decks and merchandise featuring Vault Skateboards’ mascot, Arny the Aardvark. The latest design features Arny mid-heist, and it’s a good look on him.
The showroom is meant to resemble “a core skate shop,” Ruse said. “We’re about representing the local scene. We’re skater run and operated, and we sell skateboards—just skateboards, no longboards or scooters.”
While the showroom itself houses all your skateboarding essentials, Vault Skateboards’ primary goal is to foster a skate community.
“Right now, we’re focusing on ‘brand’ more than ‘skate shop,’” Chesterfield said. “We’re working on kind of an amateur team. We’ve got a couple guys in Van, a couple guys in Vic, a couple north of Nanaimo in Parksville, and one or two around here.”
If you want to keep up with Vault Skateboards and its skate team, the best place to do so is on Instagram, @vault_skateboards. If you need an incentive, Ruse assured that there are “lots of big things to come; we’re just getting started.”
Scrap Gold is a vintage/curated showroom. While all the Vault Bazaar showrooms have a unique look, stepping into Scrap Gold is like stepping into another era. It features everything you’ll need to achieve the coveted retro look that’s been gaining popularity as of late.
Scrap Gold’s expertly crafted aesthetic likely results from the fact that Ida Maidstone, Scrap Gold’s owner, used to be a professional vintage picker. The best part is that almost everything in the showroom is sourced and/or was used in Canada.
“I have a mixture of vintage and curated items,” Maidstone said. “I have some things that are used that I’ve found, like housewares and clothing. And then, I have a bunch of stuff that’s sourced from people that I know across Canada. I have some teas from Ontario, perfumes made by a friend, and other body products made in Vancouver. Everything is Canadian except for the chocolate bars—they’re from Brooklyn.”
Maidstone is a musician, so some of Scrap Gold’s pieces were collected during her tours. “Some things, I’ve collected all across Canada, but these days everything I find is from on the Island.”
Scrap Gold makes it easy to support local and give something a new life. It’s clear that Maidstone puts a lot of forethought into her curation.
You can peruse through Maidstone’s hand-picked treasures on Instagram, @scrap.gold.
Search & Rescue Vintage
If you had visited Plants and Leather before it closed, then you probably met its owner, Katie Gilray. If you didn’t manage to make your way to the magical shop in the alley next to downtown’s China Steps, then you’re in luck; Gilray has now opened Search & Rescue Vintage.
Search & Rescue Vintage is a “curated vintage showroom with men’s and women’s clothing and some housewares,” Gilray said. “It’s basically things that I’ve hoarded or squirrelled away my whole life and now have on display. Some stuff dates from the ’20s to the ’90s; there’s not much after that.”
As for why Gilray got into thrifting, she said, “It probably stemmed from being poor my whole life. I moved out young and couldn’t afford anything else but always wanted to look kind of stylish. I always had my fingers in any hand-me-down fashion magazines I could get a hold of. So, thrifting was my outlet to have some kind of style. And I loved it, it’s a hunt for treasure, and you never know what you’re going to find.”
Gilray still steers clear of new clothes, particularly fast fashion. “It’s poor quality, it’s not sustainable, the environmental impact is atrocious, and it doesn’t last nearly as long as vintage stuff that’s been around for a long time and [that’s] had many lives.”
The fact that cheap new clothes aren’t made to last, paired with the fact that most textiles made today consist of synthetic fibres that can’t break down or be recycled, create a recipe for disaster; that’s without mentioning the economic and health related effects that fast fashion has on factory workers. Luckily enough for us here in Nanaimo, there’s no need to buy new with so many fantastic second-hand options.
“I think everything just recycles itself, and that’s why thrift is pretty amazing,” Gilray said. “I can hold onto something right now that’s ugly to everyone, and I’ll bet you in ten years everyone’s going to want it and love it.”
It also helps that buying things that previously went out of fashion is now in fashion.
“There have been waves of thrift,” Gilray explained. “I would say even in the ’90s, it was super trendy to be thrifty and be unique. In the 2000s it got a bit lost. It got kind of mainstream to look like everyone else. Now, there’s more of a surge of uniqueness in pieces, and quality, and kind of standing out of the crowd again.”
Thrifting is a way to engage fashion without contributing to new textile production, and that’s important to Gilray.
“Clothing has always been entertainment in some way. Something that we’ve seen across all cultures is adornment,” Gilray said. “Even Neanderthals adorned themselves.”
Gilray has plans to merge the showroom with another hobby—photography. Once restrictions lift, she plans to set up an event where “people can go downstairs, have a drink, see a show, then come up here and do some sort of super cheesy photo shoot. I just got a laser backdrop from the ’80s, so I’m hoping to do ’80s style portraits of people with their pets.”
Wyrd Wealth is The Vault’s resident oddities showroom, and its selection covers quite a lot of ground. It has books, used clothing, records, cassettes, CDs, crystals, tinctures, honey, pickled foods, bulk ingredients, Nanaimo’s broadest array of hot sauces, and much, much more.
Jeremy Van Wyck, who operates Wyrd Wealth with his partner Izzy, explained that the great thing about this selection is that a significant portion is used or locally sourced.
“The honey is from some guy my partner met who produces it up by Port Alberni and jars it locally. The beets and the kimchi I do myself. And, the hot sauces, I don’t know, I’ve just always wanted to see a hot sauce spread like that,” Van Wyck said with a laugh.
The store’s books are either used or books that have had a hard time selling elsewhere.
Wyrd Wealth also sells tinctures from Harmonic Arts, a Vancouver Island-based plant medicine company with products created by clinical herbalists. The company is a 1% for the Planet member, and is committed to protecting the Cumberland Forest from logging. For those who don’t know, 1% for the Planet is an organization that helps companies contribute at least one percent of their earnings towards green initiatives.
The curated books and tinctures are a favourite at Wyrd Wealth. “Sure, there’s the used clothing and records which are kind of typical,” Van Wyck said, “but having the tinctures and the books, things to feed your body and things to feed your mind, especially in a time of ill health—it’s important to have stuff like that.”
While the showroom features some pretty great products, Van Wyck wanted people to know that “the importance of this place is not so much to sell stuff and make a living wage, but to create a space for people to come in and share ideas and talk about stuff.”
Van Wyck and his partner are musicians. The pair moved to Nanaimo roughly six years ago after falling in love with the city.
“The first time we came through here, we played a gig, and there was this huge community of people. It had the best vibe, everyone was dancing, and, I mean, we play weird music okay,” Van Wyck explained with a laugh. “But everyone was into it and grooving, and I remember thinking Nanaimo’s got the coolest thing going on.”
Despite being new(ish)comers to Nanaimo, the Wyrd Wealth team wanted to help preserve the unique atmosphere they had fallen in love with. To the duo’s credit, Wyrd Wealth has done more for the community than simply supply them with, well… weird wealth.
“So we made this bumper sticker, it says ‘Keep Nanaimo Weird,’” Van Wyck said. He admitted that the bumper sticker is nothing ground-breaking, but they’ve been able to use it to support the community.
The stickers are sold at Superette Foods, where Van Wyck also works, which primarily sells food products that other stores can’t or won’t sell at a discounted price.
“Superette always raises money for the Child Development Centre—and it’s been harder to raise money with COVID … We’ve put those bumper stickers up there, and we sell them for more than we would here. All the money goes to the Child Development Centre. And, people just freaked out; I can’t keep them in stock up there. It’s kind of a cool thing, raising money for an organization that works with developmentally challenged children, by saying, kind of like, ‘weird pride.’ There’s something poetic about that.”
You can check out the bumper sticker and keep up with Wyrd Wealth on its Instagram, @wyrdwealth.
It is really cool to see the Vault Bazaar offering Nanaimo opportunities to build community and shop both locally and sustainably. Of course, none of that would be possible without The Vault Café.
Gilray wanted people to know that the Vault Bazaar wouldn’t have been possible without Amanda Scott, The Vault’s owner.
“She’s the one who thought of it, and curated it and painted it. She made the space available, and nice, and cleaned it up. [Scott] has always kind of fostered this art community … and I think she’s a big pillar in this community. She allows anyone to come into The Vault, and it’s a safe space. For all of us weirdos doing weird art, she’s always allowed that and never cherry-picked what should be displayed and what shouldn’t.”
Stay weird, Nanaimo.