West Kelowna corner store demonstrates how community can be built in unexpected spaces | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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West Kelowna corner store demonstrates how community can be built in unexpected spaces

The community store in a West Kelowna neighbourhood is set to re-open this week.

When a Glenrosa area corner store closed down earlier this spring, the frustration from area residents was palpable.

“It actually was a bit surprising,” said Graham O’Leary, president of the Glenrosa Residents Association, reflecting on the outpouring of comments and complaints on social media.

Last Mountain Market was the only store for the roughly 4,500 residents in the West Kelowna neighbourhood, selling candy and household staples for years out of a small rundown commercial space near Glenrosa Elementary school. The building was sold, the market was evicted and there went the only place many could walk to grab a litre of milk, or whatever was needed, without having to drive into town. Basically, it was a big part of the community.

“It’s like when I was a growing up in Vancouver, the corner stores had everything and you knew who ran them,” O’Leary said.

From the 1950s until the 1980s, almost every suburban neighbourhood had a corner store. Young and old went to these shops for newspapers, bread, milk, tobacco, and a variety of treats.

And, as O’Leary said, they were social by nature with customers and shopkeepers knowing each other by name. The Glenrosa shop had that going for it, and people still refer to the old shop owners by name, regularly — whether that will repeat itself remains to be seen.

This week a version of the store will open again and already there’s a great deal of interest. Some residents are happy to report through the community pages that there will be alcohol sales, others hope it will retain some of the old store’s community charm.

Most, however, are glad to see there will be a place to pick up odds and ends.

This year, as the pandemic raged on, people became reacquainted with staying closer to home and some cities have reported a return of the corner store as a community social space.

Ryan Smith with the City of Kelowna said it became apparent that more people were walking around their neighbourhoods but it’s too soon to say whether it will create a demand for any changes in retail spaces.

Already, he said, the city has a number of neighbourhood shops that survived all sorts of economic and retail ebbs and flows.

As housing developments have grown around them, some have seen their customer base bolstered.

It’s also obvious in some spots of Kelowna, competition from large supermarkets, global convenience franchises, modern service stations and extended sales hours drove them out of business.

Regardless, ensuring there is a small retail hub for neighbourhoods is something planners in that city have worked on for decades, and its community-building aspect is evident everywhere from Kettle Valley to Glenmore, where neighbourhoods that have grown beyond their original boundaries still scrape out a sense of community.

West Kelowna is quite a bit younger, but it’s trying to move in that direction, also.

Mark Koch, Director of Development Services, Planning & Development said the old market site played an important neighbourhood commercial role for the community.

“It served a role in making a community vibrant,” he said.

As developments continue, he said the city has an eye to creating more vibrancy of that kind in residential neighbourhoods.

“Lakeview Heights (also in West Kelowna), just over the past few years, has seen positive progress adding a different array (of businesses),” he said. ”In that situation, a developer came forward, and the city encouraged their intentions to create a vibrant neighbourhood centre.”

Another West Kelowna neighbourhood, Rose Valley, he said, is also moving in that direction with some success with neighbourhood commercial developments.

The aim goes beyond creating convenient shopping opportunities.

“Council has been very committed to meeting climate action objectives,” he said. “When you think of having local amenities close by, the goal is to limit the need for further vehicle trips and it creates a community vibrancy, local run-ins and ways to connect with neighbours on a localized level.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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