The Gen Z corner store resurgence is here
"So there's definitely a Gen Z generation of people [who] come in, might come in and grab some t-shirts and some cool shoulder bags or hip bags and stuff like that."
By JAMIE MAH
Corner store culture in Vancouver is enjoying a resurgence among Gen Z, who increasingly see them as a community gathering space as well, importantly, as a source of local and sustainable goods.
According to the City of Vancouver, currently there are some 88 active corner stores across the city. Of these, 40 per cent are neighbourhood grocery stores while 60 per cent operate as other types of businesses.
A 2023 study done by the non-profit research company Vividata.ca said 44 per cent of Canadian Gen Z consumers are willing to spend more money to shop sustainably and locally. Gen Z is the age group born between 1997 and 2012.
Colette Griffiths, owner of Mount Pleasant’s Federal Store, said the overall experience of shopping at a corner store is what draws in the Gen Z crowd.
Griffiths said Gen Z are drawn to corner stores as they have a higher appreciation for local goods. Gen Z, she said, puts shopping locally at a higher priority than past generations.
She said social media plays a big role in this attraction.
But ultimately, Griffiths said it’s Gen Z’s need to be part of a community that draws them into shopping at her store. “Like being able to sit outside, run into people, you know, like see and be seen in a way.”
Local love and trendy trinkets
Federal Store customer Jocelyn Kim, 25, said finding small artisan goods is what she enjoys most when she shops at corner stores.
“I find that I’m able to find like little miscellaneous things, last minute gifts and like handmade goods, so I like going to them,” Kim said.
She said it’s the local aspect of corner stores that draws her back.
“I really love it because they have local artists doing more local brands that are usually in these corner stores,” Kim said.
Griffiths said customers of all ages like shopping at her store. However, certain factors play a role into why Gen Z is one of her highest customer demographics.
“As much as we do get people of all ages and demographics in here, you know, especially with seeing what’s changing, or like, who’s moving into Mount Pleasant. There’s definitely more of that [Gen Z] now,” Griffiths said.
Trying to find a balance between “the new hot thing” and offering items that are “good and consistent” is something Griffiths does when ordering items to sell at Federal Store.
She said the balance is important.
Bye bye big box
Rosie Dindorp, 22, a customer inside Jackson’s General, a popular corner store on Kingsway in Vancouver, said it’s the convenience of corner stores that she enjoys the most.
“It’s a lot smaller and easier to navigate,” Dindorp said. “And stores like this often have a lot more local stuff as well.”
Dindorp likes shopping at corner stores because they target her age demographic rather than older people.
According to the Government of British Columbia’s website “almost 30 per cent of British Columbians immigrated to B.C. from another country,” and “residents of B.C. trace their origins to more than 200 countries or regions.”
This is something that plays a role in the marketing strategy at Rise Up Marketplace.
Roger Collins, owner of Rise Up Marketplace in Strathcona, said the cultural vibe of his Jamaican culture inspired corner store has proven to attract the Gen Z crowd.
Collins said the younger generation comes in to Rise Up Marketplace to enjoy the culture and the food. He said they especially like to stop by for Jamaican patties.
Diversity plays a big factor in what Rise Up Marketplace brings to the community Collins said.
“It’s different backgrounds of people as well, people from all over the world, different cultures coming in here and enjoying the space, which is kind of cool,” he said. “So, it’s kind of like a melting pot for a lot of different people.”
On Sept. 7, the City of Vancouver launched a survey asking residents if they would like an expansion of corner stores in the city. The feedback from this survey will be used to make changes to corner store regulations in 2024.
‘It’s just a really good escape from sometimes the heaviness of the world or your own personal life’
At Rise Up Marketplace, Gen Zers flock to the vintage Pac-Man machine to experience old school vibes and to build community.
Adding to the retro appeal of the game, it’s also free to play.
A report done by the City of Vancouver in 2020, said corner stores were once a central gathering place where community building took place. The city said over the years this has declined. Britopian.com, an online data analysis website, said 37 per cent of Gen Zers prefer gaming in a social environment. A local corner store uses this as a way to draw in customers.
Owner of Rise Up Marketplace, Roger Collins installed the retro arcade game as a nostalgic element he remembers fondly from going to corner stores as a kid.
“I’m old enough to remember when arcade games actually became part of, you know, corner stores,” Collins said. “I remember when Pac-Man machines started coming in.”
Even as a kid in Toronto with limited means, Collins said, he and his friends always made time to hit their neighbourhood corner store.
“You’d walk all the way to the store just to play that game and get that little fix and get that joy,” Collins said.
He has seen a definite uptick in Gen Zers hanging out in the store since adding the arcade game, fostering a sense of community.
The warmth and friendliness around the Pac-Man game at Rise Up Marketplace makes Pierce O’Brien, 24, a returning customer.
“The retro arcade game brings a new sense of home almost,” O’Brien said.
Sequoia Malley, 22, loves the game — and the fact it’s free.
“I just played it the other day,” Malley said. “It’s really fun because you don’t even need to pay for it. You just hit the start button and go.”
Collins said there is a common bond his customers share between Pac-Man at Rise Up Marketplace.
Whether it’s through outsiders watching as customers struggle through a stressful level of Pac-Man or if they are simply having fun.
“And I just find that people kind of rally around that corner.” Collins said, “And kind of like even strangers will see each other and be like, ‘how are you doing?’”