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Neighbourhood haunt closing its doors

Astorino's on Commercial Drive hosted weddings, baptisms and more

Patricia Wood is going to miss her Friday night bingo outings to a local institution on the corner of Commercial Drive and Venables Street.

Astorino's Ballroom closed its doors to patrons last month after 29 years and Astorino's Catering is selling its kitchen and banquet wares until the end of the month.

"We got to be like family," said the 63-year-old Wood who would eat pasta and play bingo there with her 97-year-old aunt and two other residents from her nearby seniors complex. She called it a familyoriented place. "They had an open invitation for all, from First Nations to Filipino to Japanese to German, all ethnic origins," said Wood, who is Japanese-Canadian. "They welcomed everyone."

Owner and president Leo Astorino, who operates the business with his brother Tony, says the two-storey building that's hosted weddings, baptisms, anniversaries, club and association events, needed major remodelling if not redevelopment. Astorino, 62, and his brother, 71, opted to retire instead.

"It's kind of surreal driving in every morning," said Astorino, a resident of Coquitlam. "The people are what I'm going to miss the most. There are so many people from clubs and from weddings and you see them all the time. Yeah, I think that's the worst part."

Astorino's has hosted events for various Italian clubs, a minor hockey association, groups from the nearby Britannia school and community centre and the neighbouring Kettle Friendship Society, a nonprofit agency that helps people with mental illness.

Astorino's Catering largely served the Italian community along with Portuguese and Croatian groups. Astorino's Ballroom provided a home to Mr. Dance ballroom dance classes twice a week and previously hosted three church-run bingo nights, until Astorino says commercial casinos lured bingo-goers away.

He has noticed that some younger people seek more sophisticated wedding reception venues these days.

"They're more going to the fancy hotel, where a lot of the older ones are more keeping it down to earth and reasonable in price," he said. "It's changing-because the parents are paying for it."

But other clientele remain loyal to Astorino's. "We've just finished a baptism that we had actually done the wedding for the baby's grandmother," he said.

The Astorino's sold their property to a developer who plans to redevelop the whole block, including The Kettle and Ace of Suedes into a mixed-use development that would include space for the non-profit agency, market and social housing.

Astorino says the area has improved from 15 years ago when loitering and panhandling posed greater problems. He credits the Commercial Drive Business Society and the influx of trendy shops and restaurants for some of the progress. He believes there weren't sufficient services back then to help down-and-out people from the Downtown Eastside. Astorino believes The Kettle has helped address people's needs while also drawing more of those in need to the area. Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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