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Creating community-serving retail and micro-enterprises in Chinese society buildings

Creating community-serving retail and micro-enterprises in Chinese society buildings

Increased development in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood creates pressure on existing retail and small businesses. Rising land and rent prices – and the general scarcity of affordable commercial spaces – threaten their sustainability while new commercial functions cater mostly to a far more affluent demographic and are detached from the community’s cultural heritage. This loss of cultural identity is particularly apparent in Chinatown and Strathcona. At the same time, there are many street-facing underutilized buildings in these areas that could provide far greater benefit to the community.

Joji Kumagai of the Strathcona BIA, Wilco van Bemmel of Walas Concepts and June Chow of the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, have recently taken the initiative for a project to create community-serving retail in underutilized Chinese society buildings. Our project will create opportunities for affordable retail and micro-enterprises that serve the community, strengthen the local culture with functions that fit the community fabric and cultural identity, provide inclusive employment opportunities and improve the public realm by activating storefronts and streets.

The City of Vancouver has awarded a DTES capital grant for phase 1 of our project. In this first phase, we search for potential locations, assess retail and service gaps, build partnerships with Chinese societies  and BIAs, conduct / collect research on what type of enterprises to attract and how to support them, and raise funds. In the second phase (2018 and onward) we secure tenants, finalize capital details, engage local residents and start repurposing one or two locations in Strathcona and Chinatown. Once these are successful, we will scale-up our concept to other Chinese society buildings as well.

Please feel free to contact project manager Wilco van Bemmel (604.368.4600, with any questions, suggestions or comments.

Joji Kumagai,Walas Concepts Wilco van Bemmel

Wilco van Bemmel (604.368.4600,,