Like a Phoenix
from the Ashes: Vancouver's "Pot Block" Rebounds from Weekend Arson
An intentionally-set fire swept through the 300 block of West Hastings Street in downtown Vancouver early Sunday morning, gutting a group of businesses that made up the heart of "Vansterdam," the physical manifestation of the marijuana culture that has blossomed in the city in the past two decades.
Several businesses were destroyed, including the Blunt Brothers Café, owned by marijuana seed entrepreneur Marc Emery, where tired tokers could sit and smoke in peace, and Cabbage & Kinx, the adjacent fetish wear shop. Also destroyed was Spartacus Books, a left-wing bookstore that has been a fixture in the neighborhood for decades, as well as the New Amsterdam Café, another pot café that had closed recently. In addition, the building housing the offices of Emery's British Columbia Marijuana Party (http://www.bcmarijuanaparty.org) suffered severe smoke and water damage. That building is home to a set of Emery enterprises, including the BC Marijuana Party Bookstore, the studios of Pot-TV, and the Urban Shaman entheogen shop.
Vansterdam is ground zero for cannabis pilgrims headed for British Columbia and the first stop for the many US pot tourists visiting Vancouver. While neither Blunt Brothers nor Cabbage & Kinx actually sold marijuana, they did allow it to be smoked on-premises, and there are always scruffy-looking fellows loitering across the street ready and willing to sell buds to travelers coming across the international border.
But despite the damage and dire predictions of doom, Vansterdam is already substantially back -- and spiffier than ever, said Emery. "Within 48 hours after that devastating fire, we were open again and selling goods," he told DRCNet Wednesday. "We have pipes, seeds, bongs, and all our other retail items available again. And the store is cleaner and more modern -- I'm actually extremely pleased with how we've recovered. Even Pot-TV will be up and running again within a few more days."
Initial reports painted a dire picture. Vancouver media outlets Sunday morning showed a three-alarm blaze being battled by up to 50 firefighters, and images of the scene showed clouds of black smoke billowing from the buildings housing Blunt Brothers and the BCMP. It appeared as if the entire middle of the block was severely damaged, but Emery said it wasn't as bad as it looked.
"The block is missing a couple of buildings now, but the BCMP Bookstore has already reopened, and it is completely improved and recovered," he said. "Blunt Brothers will have power and electricity by Thursday, and should be reopening within a few days. People in the community have really been responding and helping out, and we've even received about $800 US in donations from the web," he said.
The donations will help. Although Emery has made a fortune through his pot seed business and related enterprises, such as Cannabis Culture magazine, whose offices in a high-rise at the end of the block were unaffected by the fire, his businesses were uninsured because they operate on the margin of the law, and he is incurring costs from the fire. "I've spent about $15,000 in repairs and cleaning up smoke and water damage," he said, "and there's probably about another $5,000 in lost business, but we will do what it takes to get up and running again."
The fire apparently broke out simultaneously in several dumpsters in the alley behind the buildings around 6:30am Sunday. While Vancouver fire officials would only call the fire "suspicious," according to Emery, there is no doubt it was arson. "Police have found conclusive evidence that someone on Sunday morning intended to torch the pot block with multiple set infernos," he said. "They found accelerants, they found four gas bombs, there was a clear intent to burn it to the ground."
While the fire has led to much speculation and conspiracy theorizing about who is responsible -- the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is often mentioned -- no suspect has been identified. "This reads like an Agatha Christie novel," said Emergy. "It could be the DEA, it could be the Scientologists, but it could also just be a disgruntled employee from one of the other businesses on the block," he speculated. "Not our businesses; we haven't fired anyone for a long time, but there have been some people in the area who have demonstrated psychotic behavior. The police are looking at people who might have a grudge," he said.
Vansterdam is coming back to life, slowly but surely. For those of you who were planning to visit the area, there is no need to tear up your travel plans. The smell of smoke from burning buildings may have faded, but the smell of pot smoke on West Hastings is in no danger of fading.