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The past, present and future of the corner store
Day after day, Hyang-Ok Jung sees the same people enter her West End corner store to buy milk, bread, or cigarettes.
And Jung — who bought Sunlight Market Convenience Store on St. Matthew’s Avenue three years ago — said she loves the monotony.
The more she gets to know the residents who frequent her store, the more she feels connected to the community, Jung explained.
"It’s almost always the same customers," she said. "I love these customers."
The feeling, it appears, is mutual — and her customers show their love through their loyalty.
Allison McPhee, an area resident, popped into Sunlight Market last week to buy coffee cream.
McPhee said when she needs to pick up one or two items, she prefers Jung’s shop to a grocery store.
"This is quick. You can walk here in just a couple minutes," she said.
The friendly rapport she’s formed with Jung is part of the appeal, McPhee added, noting the shop owner even buys Christmas presents for McPhee’s young children.
And while she loves her neighbourhood’s corner store, McPhee said she thinks many people have lost their appetite for mom-and-pop shops.
"Most people drive to the big box stores for most of their shopping," she said, adding she doesn’t think people open new corner stores anymore.
In fact, McPhee said, it often feels as if shops such as Sunlight Market are relics from the past.
"I think the day of the local convenience store is going," she said.
Robert Warren, a marketing professor with the University of Manitoba, agrees most people are unlikely to open independent corner stores nowadays.
He said that’s partly because the industry has become dominated by big players such as 7-Eleven and Mac’s.
A second factor is new neighbourhoods aren’t built to be walkable anymore, Warren said.
"When I think of the old convenience store, I think of something that was on the corner of the block, it was easy to walk to," he said.
"Today everything is geared towards a parking space, and those new developments are set up to be car-friendly — not necessarily people-friendly."
David Angus, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said he sees the situation as a shift — rather than a demise — of the family-owned corner store.
Corner stores are representative of the way neighbourhoods used to be built, he explained.
"That’s how a lot of communities organized themselves, around these smaller shop . . . Local grocery stores, people walking down to pick up their groceries from someone they know," he said.
"You still see that in certain areas, particularly older areas like the North End."
But with newer developments, he said, businesses prefer to group themselves into shopping centres.
"They want to be around other retailers to leverage their traffic," Angus said.
"Some of these retailers are mom-and-pop shops, they’re family-owned businesses. They’re just not the corner store-type model."
But Angus said he also believes the corner store may be making a comeback, thanks to the province’s influx of immigrant entrepreneurs.
"Many of those (families) are setting up smaller shops, family-owned shops, whether it’s in the grocery trade or whether it’s in other types of services," he said, adding the stores are often geared towards the various immigrant communities.
Because many immigrant groups tend to live in the same area of the city, their new businesses can become focal points, Angus said — much like an old-fashioned corner store.
Mingyu Choi — whose father Kwangsub owns Mountain Grocery in the North End — said there’s another way immigrants are contributing to the corner store industry.
Choi, whose family emigrated from South Korea seven years ago, said newcomers have bought many existing corner stores across the city.
"This particular job doesn’t require a high level of English," she explained, making it a practical career path for some newcomers.
And while there may be language barriers for many new owners of Winnipeg’s old convenience stores, Choi said they’re finding ways to keep the connection between communities and their corner stores alive.
Much like Jung — who is also an immigrant — has fostered friendships with patrons of Sunlight Market, Choi said her family is learning to see their customers as neighbours.
Though the North End’s reputation as a dangerous area made her family cautious at first, Choi said they’ve become more comfortable as they get to know their regulars.
"We remember their faces. We get some conversation," she said. "We try to be their friends."
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(1 of 11 articles for this week)06/19/2013 1:00 AM 0