Retail as Cultural Catalysts

Retailers attract and connect people. We believe community-valued retail is a powerful catalyst for establishing a unique community culture and a sense of place. They are gathering places, transactional, and human. Places where the culture of the city, neighbourhood, and building mix. 

The corner store concept does well because it is conveniently located and contains necessities. If the experience is meaningful in some way, it soon becomes a ritual. Coffee shops do well for similar reasons. 

The stronger the connection between retail and the neighbourhood, the more anchored the place will feel. So how can we cultivate a relationship between retail and housing in our developments?


1. Curated retail selection process


We are interested in a relevant mix of independent retail, restaurants, coffee shops, wellness services and grocery. A curated approach allows us to select businesses that are aligned with the lifestyle we’re looking to create. A mix that adds meaning to the lives of residents of the building and neighbourhood. 

Developers are beginning to rethink the relationship between retail and development. Platform LA is a collection of like-minded businesses that suit the lifestyle of those living in the neighbourhood. They facilitate a community by collaborating on ways to activate their shared public spaces – from pop-ups, installations and culinary partnerships.

Thoughtful Retail - Platform LA Exteriors by Nicole Franzen Platform LA Exteriors (photo by Nicole Franzen), Los Angeles

2. Adjust lease agreements to attract independent retailers


Traditionally, commercial units are leased to the highest bidder. The businesses who can afford the higher rents often have a very systemized business model. That is why larger chains tend to dominate new developments. Unfortunately, chains don’t foster a personalized or unique community with local residents. Smaller independent shops do, but can struggle to afford the rents that new developments require.

We see the value independent retailers bring to our communities so we are looking at different lease structures to entice smaller, more independent businesses. 


3. Make it easier for residents to mix with retailers


Mixed-use buildings in metro Vancouver tend to include a clearly defined separation between the at-grade retail and upper floor residential. Residents have to make a real effort beyond their day-to-day commute to explore retail within the building.

We don’t believe there’s a need to segregate.  After all, it’s the mix that brings the magic. A more integrated approach to site planning and mixed-use programming will deliver a higher quality experience and should translate into a happier and healthier community. 

Preliminary concept of activated commercial and streetview by Yamamoto Architecture, for 810 Kingsway.

With our project on 810 Kingsway we are redefining the relationship with a public lobby amenity on the ground floor with direct connections to the adjacent retail spaces. There is a permeable connection between the retail and residential. The combination of programmed and unprogrammed space within the public lobby allows for freedom and flexibility. We imagine places for people to hang out, work, and meet others from the building and the broader community. 

Preliminary integrated lobby concept by Ste. Marie, Kingsway & Prince Albert

The opportunities to build more integrated and relevant mixed-use developments are endless. When independent businesses and housing overlap, a lively mixed-use community is possible. 

Examples of thoughtfully curated retail: