North Vancouver's rock shop boys
They’ve got more rock stars than the pages of Rolling Stone magazine.
“It’s the biggest selection of natural stone beads in Canada,” says Lyle Craver, giving a tour of Capilano Rock & Gem, an iconic North Vancouver store his parents started in 1976.
It’s arguably the busiest few hundred square feet of the shop, with row after row, box upon box, of stones in endless varieties of shapes and exotic colours, from Dalmatian Jasper and Cherry Quartz to Pink Opal, Russian Serpentine and Lava Rock.
“All over,” says Lyle about the provenance of the stones.
“Brazil, Southeast Asia, China.”
“India, Nepal,” adds brother Brian, who co-owns the Pemberton Avenue store.
“Getting a lot more out of Russia [these days],” adds Lyle.
There’s B.C. jade and pink rhodonite from Argentina. And labradorite from the Labrador peninsula. Plus much more. “Amethyst to zoisite,” says Lyle, spelling the latter out.
“Did I spell it correctly?” he wonders aloud as he walks over to a display case. “It’s material that ruby grows in. [It’s found] mostly in India — you do get some in Brazil. It’s typically a green stone.”
“That’s it right there,” he says fishing inside the case.
The brothers hand-select stone beads from a list global contacts they’ve cultivated over the years.
Most stone beads are sold in 16-inch strands and they run from $3 to $3,800, with the majority $30 and under. The store caters mostly to professional jewelry designers, DIYers and rock hounds so you won’t find a lot of ready-to-wear pieces. Instead, they offer all the stuff needed to make handcrafted jewelry, including all the “findings,” the hardware needed to make pieces, like clasps, hooks and pins.
But that’s just a tiny section of jam-packed 3,000-square-foot store. Lyle estimates they have 100,000-plus inventory items.
“I wish I could say we’re kidding,” he says, a smile forming.
“Almost the only thing we don’t have is diamonds.”
Brian reminds him that they actually do.
“A couple of strands.”
That massive, ever-changing inventory means they’re almost always able to fulfill customer requests, no matter how unique.
“We don’t get stumped often,” says Lyle.
The store tour continues.
“We do a lot of Swarovski crystals,” he notes.
There’s also a vast assortment of fresh water pearls — one of the store’s other best-selling items — pewter beads, metals, books, lapidary equipment, polishing compounds, drills and silversmith tools, display pads, earring stands, stone cutting equipment, and more.
“We have all kinds of mineral specimens,” says Lyle, who later adds, “We can’t let him get away without mentioning the fossils.”
Next, he points out an “amethyst cave” a glittery, naturally formed crystal formation. “Some call them churches,” adds Brian. “Or cathedrals.”
Capilano Rock & Gem was started by Lyle and Brian’s parents — Chuck and Phyllis — in 1976, shortly after the family purchased a West Vancouver home that was previously owned by a mining promoter. Brian, then 15, discovered the previous owner had left something behind in a crawl space: a few large rocks that looked like they had gold inside.
His dad took them to the B.C. and Yukon Chamber of Mines and was offered $17.50 and $7.50 for the rocks. He balked at the offer, but it gave him the idea to open a rock and gem shop. Chuck later asked Don German, who’d run a shop called Capilano Rock & Gem until he retired, if he’d mind if he borrowed the name for his store. Chuck Craver had previously operated a salmon cannery in Vancouver but was a rock hound at heart.
The joke at the Craver family table was that the parents went rock-hounding on their first date. “They went agate hunting,” says Brian. Rock hounds, explains Lyle, collect everything, from quartz crystals to fossils, and his dad was an inveterate collector.
Both brothers worked for the family business growing up. A few years after earning a business degree at McMaster University, Lyle joined the family business. Brian, a chiropractor, began working in the shop in 2005 after his mother was killed in a MVA in Arizona during a buying trip. Chuck, who retired a few years later, passed away earlier this year.
“It’s a vital business that is worth continuing,” says Brian.
Both brothers enjoy the pursuit of interesting, unique items.
“We are constantly experimenting and trying new things,” says Lyle.
The formula seems to be working. When jewelry designer Trudy Wynans of Toodlebunny Designs overhears the brothers being interviewed for a newspaper story she jokes: “No! Then everyone will know where I get my stuff. This is the mecca of everything good,” says Wynans, who was recently featured in the Globe and Mail style section.
As Lyle explains, in this business you need to purchase prudently, never wanting to be too far ahead — or too far behind — your customer’s tastes. Otherwise, you get stuck with a bunch on inventory.
“You have to buy right,” says Lyle.
When asked about his favourite item in the store, there’s a pause. “Oh boy,” he says, putting his hand up to his mustache in contemplation as he scans the aisles.
After some thought, he steers towards the front of the shop.
“Smaller, high-end stones,” he answers.
Unset stones are kept in a rotating display cases up front. Sapphires, emeralds, and more.
He pulls out an aqua cabochon.
“As you can see it has all different shades of blue,” he says, extracting a stone from a small box.
He takes the aqua stone over to a scale to measure it. Lyle purchased it, along with about $100,000 worth of other gem stones and high-end pearls during a recent trips overseas.
“It’s the largest of the aquas — about $500.”
It’s a real gem.
For more info about Capilano Rock & Gem, visit capilanorock.ca.