While walking down the glittery, busy St-Laurent, it’s easy to pass by a store like Eva-B. The storefront is boarded up and covered by graffiti and stickers, looking more like an abandoned building than a vintage store. Yet beyond this front lies one of the most popular vintage haunts in Montreal. Eva-B is a go-to thrift store that attracts everyone, from local hipsters to visiting celebrities alike.
Eva-B is organized by three sections dispersed between two levels—on the first is a consignment vintage store and a coffee shop, and on the second is a used goods floor—all while offering an alternative, vibrant underground community with the goal of preserving an era of Montreal history. Founded in 1987 by Gabriel Croteau, the shop has undergone many transformations over the years. According to Manager Catherine Coghlin, who has been at Croteau’s side for the last nine years, the original Eva-B was nothing like what it is today—in fact, vintage clothing was never meant to be its main focus at all.
“Originally, [Croteau] rented out the space [beside the current store], and [it] started out as a bookstore,” Coghlin said. “It was him and a friend of his, and they only sold second hand books [….] As time progressed, he was like, ‘Oh, can I buy the building?’ And when that happened, he had so much [extra] room […] so he started selling his girlfriend’s [mother’s] clothes, and that worked well.”
To some, selling old family clothing may be unconventional, but Coghlin says her boss has always been quirky. From digging through the garbage to hoarding junk throughout the years, it’s no wonder that Croteau has shaped Eva-B to be a haven for fans of the old, the forgotten, and the abandoned.
“[The store’s] been through all kinds of stuff,” Coghlin said. “We’ve done second-hand [clothing], new [clothing], tailored clothes [….] We’ve [also] done theatre stuff, we’ve had a theatre room [.…] And now we’re back to books and clothes.”
Though Eva-B may have a large and eclectic selection of both vintage and cheap, modern clothing, the real charm is in the aesthetic and atmosphere it provides for shoppers. There is a small café located by the entrance, where the store sells delicious sandwiches, snacks, and drinks for relatively cheap prices. On the first floor, customers may recline on comfortable couches and enjoy a meal, or even sit outside in the courtyard to get away from the hustle and bustle of the store.
The café side of Eva-B was created on a whim, as well.
“[Croteau] would just make food for himself, and clients would be like, ‘Oh, that smells good!’ And gradually […] it just kind of happened,” Coghlin said.
All of this—the huge selections, cheap prices, and warm atmosphere—has contributed to Eva-B’s continued success. Compared with many other thrift shops or fripperies in Montreal, Eva-B differs in its position as a half-way between high-end vintage and Value Village-style stores. Additionally, both Croteau and Coghlin have always maintained excellent relationships with customers in an effort to create a sense of community. Though the store doesn’t maintain any active social media pages, Coghlin notes that shoppers are keen to share Eva-B’s unique aesthetic on sites such as Instagram or Facebook.
“People hashtag Eva-B a lot. It’s funny, actually, you can see the [changes] throughout the years. If you go all the way down [the Eva-B tag on Instagram], you […] see what [the store] was like, our history, just on Instagram,” said Coghlin.
Indeed, Eva-B strives to fulfill a look that attracts young creative people. The music, playing overhead as customers browse, is hand-picked by the employees of the store, and features artists such as The Smiths and The Talking Heads. Walking around the store feels disorienting—there are cassettes, typewriters, and books that seemed to have come out of the last century.
Even the boarded-up door—although rather dubious-looking—manages to perfectly encapsulate Eva-B’s grunge style. The entrance signs are tucked away, as though to preserve the clandestine nature of the store.
“Not many people notice that we actually exist, because all of the front of our store is completely boarded-up,” Coghlin said. “Being on St-Laurent at three in the morning, you get a lot of drunk people […] and people would break the windows, and we didn’t have enough money to [repair] them. We [tried] to patch it up with little pieces of wood until eventually we had to patch up the whole front because we kept getting bottles of beer thrown, [and drunk] people breaking in.”
Coghlin doesn’t remember when graffiti started showing up on the walls, but she notes that it could have been from fans of the store, or simply young people attempting to vandalize property. Whatever the case, it’s certainly worked in Eva-B’s favour, especially in maintaining an underground image.
As for the mysterious name, Coghlin makes a tenuous connection to Eva Braun, but says she doesn’t really know either.
“I’ve asked [Croteau], ‘Where is Eva-B from?’ and his answer to that is, ‘I don’t remember.’ Now he is a bit old, but I don’t really believe that,” said Coghlin, with a laugh.