The neighbourhood grocery store truly is the cornerstone of a community. Just as animals on the savannah meet to quench their thirst and seek refuge from the elements at a watering hole, the corner store is a pillar that all in the community may enjoy together. From the first ice cold slushee of the summer, to when you need to run out for eggs and milk while dinner is in the oven, the corner store always has your back. Perhaps the image of a convenience store invokes nostalgic images of hanging out with your friends after school, playing arcade games and buying candy bars. Whatever the reason, we all are grateful for our local mom & pop grocers.
The Blue Store in Inglewood was originally founded as Inglewood Food Mart & Video – for those of us who fondly remember the days of VHS and DVD rentals. When owner Chris Nam and his team took over the location in October, 2019, they wished to breathe new life into the building. Inspired by local west coast haunts like Coombs Market (Vancouver Island), Chris wanted to incorporate the sentiment of a classic corner store, while offering local market-style selections.
“Our mission is to bring affordable groceries to everyone in the community and to provide a safe hub for residents to get everything they need without having to leave the neighbourhood,” said The Blue Store owner, Chris Nam. “We decided to embrace the nostalgia of this heritage building, restoring its original hardwood floors and tin ceilings and adding 60’s & 70’s inspired mural work.”
Colloquially known as “The Blue Crew,” Chris’s team attentively strives to create a safe and approachable environment at the store, both internally and externally. Their “chalk wall” on the east facing wall of the shop cleverly gives patrons and passersby in the community a creative platform to share their thoughts, struggles and inspiration. Additionally, it has been an integral catalyst for individuals in the community to connect and drive traffic to the store during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During these challenging times with social media becoming one of our only methods to connect, we wanted to bring back a safe oldschool option,” explains Chris. He adds, “We also look for opportunities to resource share with other community organizations, for example we lent our picnic tables to the Ramsay community centre throughout the winter months when their public skating rink was operational.”
Many of the regulations imposed in our province during the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult for small businesses to find financial equilibrium. The pressure of maintaining a safe work environment, coupled with the constant threat of closure has forced many shops to permanently close, while people continue to shop at larger corporations. The Blue Store in Inglewood has been a shining beacon of success in the community and has managed to thrive during these trying times. Being able to operate as as essential service, combined with the #shoplocalyyc effort have been a positive light during a dark year for Chris and his team.
“We are so thankful that our business as a grocery store allows us to stay open as an essential business,” said Chris. “We are finding that where we may have lost foot traffic on weekends, we have gained back in local support with people making a conscious effort to support locals instead of going to big box stores. So far, the most challenging part (thankfully) has been to adjust to our growth as we’ve expanded with our Ice Cream Window, The Coffee Hut (partnered with local brewers Fratello), and the opening of our commercial kitchen that offers a both Yakuza Sushi and Korean Fried Chicken.”
On top of diversifying their product roster with fresh and delicious sushi, Korean fried chicken and premium coffee, The Blue Store understands the importance of supporting local and keeps their shelves stocked with local products from neighbouring Calgary shops such as Tubby Dog, Fratello, Fresh in the City, Marcellos Gellato, Motherlode Coffee, Crooked Crout, and more. Chris is eternally grateful to the vibrance of the community and it’s incredible residents for their support.
“Our favourite part of The Blue Store is the people. Our customers are incredible and the support we’ve received from Inglewood, Ramsay, and surrounding communities has been overwhelmingly positive,” Chris states. “There is a real sense of community here and that has very much shaped our approach. The most rewarding piece to date has definitely been the relationships built with locals both residents and business owners and being embraced as one of them.”
So next time you walk out the door for a grocery run, or if you’re just looking to score a quick caffeine fix, think about The Blue Store or any of the other small grocers in your community. By supporting them, you’re also supporting other small businesses and that’s something you can feel good about.