One of Ray Loy's fondest childhood memories growing up in Vancouver's Chinatown involved his weekly visits to Goldstone Bakery on Keefer Street.
Loy's mom would take him to the sixth floor of the Woodwards' department store, where the then seven-year-old would play with toys for hours. Then, dinner at gum sak — or gold stone, in Cantonese.
He would scarf down a dish of bubbling, gravy-slathered baked pork chop on fried rice with a sweet Hong Kong-style milk tea. Then for dessert, maybe one of the bakery's famed egg tarts — a favourite of his until this day.
"And their menu hasn't changed in 30 years," says Loy. "But I think that's the beauty of it, is that you can always have those old staples from Hong Kong."
Unfortunately Loy won't able to indulge in his childhood favourites anymore. The bakery, which opened in 1986, closed its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic and is now looking to sell.
Many of Chinatown's supporters say the bakery's sale is emblematic of broader issues in and around the neighbourhood, like gentrification and poverty, that have been going on for years. They worry that those issues, now aggravated by the pandemic, may impair the area beyond repair.
Plans to downsize
Real estate agent Raymond Cheung says the owners have reached retirement age and their son, who took over and ran the kitchen, is interested in downsizing.
Cheung says the son is retaining the name Goldstone but is undecided if he'll reopen in Chinatown.
The price for the kitchen equipment, interiors and right to continue the lease were listed for as much as $500,000 in June. But with little interest, the price dropped to $150,000 this week.
Part of the challenge, says Cheung, is that property taxes alone for the 7,500-square-foot location runs up a tab of about $70,000 a year.
News of the closure prompted a wave of emotion for Loy and many others who tweeted and shared what the loss also meant to them.
"I'm very sad, you know, because this is a real landmark for the current gathering of all people in Chinatown," said Richard K. Wong, a community activist and chair of the Canada Day Drumming Celebration.
Goldstone was a favoured haunt for Wong and his friends for afternoon tea and to host community gatherings.
Wong says he watched in the '80s as Goldstone became the hub for a wave of Hong Kong immigrants who arrived in Vancouver seeking a slice of home.
The restaurant was bustling at one point but in recent years it often sat more than half empty, much like many other empty storefronts in the area.
"The economy in Chinatown is deteriorating to the level that even such a popular piece cannot survive," he says. "That is a serious matter."
Wong believes governments need to pay more attention to the neighbourhood and allow for denser housing developments to attract consumers with spending power. An example, he says, would be a housing campus for international students.
Community members have long grappled with how to revitalize the area, with a lot of them raising concerns about how development could affect the many low-income senior residents who live in the neighbourhood.
Loy points to the growing drug and homelessness crisis as another layer of complexity. Those were issues he experienced personally as a former restaurant owner in the area.
Between Chinatown's ongoing challenges and the pandemic, he fears the community could be changed irreparably.
"There's only less than a handful of businesses that still remain from the '80s," he says. "And hopefully the government steps in to help them because this pandemic might be a last blow to them."
Need for government support
The Chinatown Legacy Stewardship Group is submitting a proposal to all three levels of government to seek help amid the pandemic.
They're asking for emergency funding, much like the federal government has committed to Granville Island, and asking the city for relief from parking fees, widening walkways and supports for merchants to go digital.
Michael Tan, the co-chair of the group, says over the long term they'll be looking at more festivals and initiatives like the Chinese-Canadian museum to draw more people in.
All in hopes of avoiding further "heartbreaking" losses like Goldstone, Tan says.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that the property taxes for Goldstone Bakery amount to $7,000 a year. In fact, they amount to $70,000 a year.