Rumpus Room eviction symbolic of Main Street changes

The Rumpus Room on Main Street brands itself as “Your 1970s basement hangout”, and it certainly lives up to it. The funky colours, cramped spacing, and vintage board games created an ambiance that was quintessential Main Street for many.

Next month, it will be gone.

“It’s letting go of a fight we’ve been having for a while,” says co-owner Rachel Zottenberg. “We’ve reached the end of our fight.”

Zottenberg and her business partner David Duprey have announced they will vacate the property next month, following a protracted battle with their landlord, who wanted to exercise a demolition clause in their contract.

“A demo clause is pretty standard in Vancouver now because buildings are so expensive,” says Duprey with an air of resignation. “You just cross your fingers and hope it doesn’t happen.”

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“Vancouver’s turning into gold, so I don’t know what the city can do. There’s so much money in condos, but I don’t know who’s buying them, because it’s not us.”

Going up in its place once demolition and building permits have been obtained will be a four-storey mixed-use building. Retail space on the ground floor, market rental housing on top.

It’s a common type of development on Vancouver’s Main Street and Vancouver’s main streets alike. But to Zottenberg, it’s another landlord putting profit ahead of the culture.

“A lot of people feel what makes Main Street where everybody wants to be right now is places like this, and we’re all getting shoved out,” she says. “Main Street doesn’t feel like it needs more condos. Main Street has a lot of great parts to it, but the more things get shoved out, the less it will keep that vibe.”

Former Vancouver planning director Brent Toderian says that change on Main Street, like any street, is inevitable.

“Main Street has a brand…but because of market forces, it’s difficult to freeze any street in amber. Many communities wish we could do that. Not just in terms of the form, but even more emotionally, the stores themselves,” he says.

Councillor Heather Deal says local cultural spaces are important; but in Vancouver, so is affordable housing.

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“It’s been a great venue and I hope they find a new place, but under the existing bylays and zoning, rental housing is available and allowed there, and it is a need in that neighbourhood.”

City regulations allow for a maximum rent of $1,443 for studios and $1,517 for a one-bedroom unit under the rental development policy Lee is hoping to build under.

So the Rumpus Room will go down and housing will go up. An online petition asking the city to stop the demolition of the Rumpus Room is being widely circulated, with over 1100 signatures as of this writing.

But Toderian says once an owner has made up their mind to redevelop, such a change is highly unlikely, regardless of property.

“The city has limited powers to prevent demolition under provincial legislation. Even for a undesignated heritage building, they can only delay demolition to give some time for reconsideration, but can’t designate without the owner’s agreement unless they fully financially compensate the owner,” he says.

And as the city doesn’t seem to be interested in that option, the era of the Rumpus Room on Main is coming to a close.

“It’s too bad,” says Zottenberg.

“Whether you love or hate this space, it’s unique, it’s exciting, it’s fun, and it feels like it’s grown with the neighbourhood.”


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