When he took over the “little blue store” in Inglewood in October 2019, owner Chris Nam thought convenience stores were a dying breed.
Besides, he had other plans for the space that first opened in the 1920s as the ‘Blyth Dance Hall,’ cycling through various businesses over the past century, including a shoe store and a coffee house.
But Nam realized that ‘The Blue Store’ was more than just a convenience store for the residents of Inglewood; it was a necessity. So, he did what any business owner with morals would do; he expanded it.
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“I never thought I would open or take over a convenience store in my life, ever,” Nam told Calgary Citizen. “But then I came to Inglewood.”
Nam planned to make the convenience store aspect smaller and start a sushi, ice cream, or Korean chicken place — but plans quickly changed.
“I just felt like I couldn’t make the convenience part smaller because a lot of people need this store for their groceries. A lot of people in this neighbourhood don’t have cars,” the father of two explains.
“I just felt like I needed to give back to the community. I have to solve a problem. If there’s no need for me here, I will go somewhere else to find my need.”
Not only did Nam — who moved from Seoul, South Korea 20 years ago — not minimize the convenience store space, he actually expanded it. Good thing he still works as a contractor.
The Blue Store expanded to include an ice cream window facing the busy 9th Ave. sidewalk. They also partnered with local coffee brewers, Fratello, to create ‘The Coffee Hut,’ which also faces the street.
The ironic part? He wasn’t trying to be trendy; he just needed the space.
“I didn’t have enough space inside to serve ice cream, so I had to serve them outside,” he laughs.
Nam even opened a commercial kitchen offering both Yakuza Sushi and Korean Fried Chicken, so he got his wish after all. Despite essentially opening during a pandemic, business in Inglewood has been good for Nam and The Blue Store.
“So far, the most challenging part, thankfully, has been to adjust to our growth.”
Illustrated by the giant yellow smiling face on its exterior wall and the “chalk wall” where people are treated to a creative platform to share their thoughts, The Blue Store is more than just a convenience store, says employee Emma Waters.
“Before I even came to work at this store, someone told me, ‘you have to visit The Blue Store.’ It has everything. Like, there’s sushi, chicken, ice cream, coffee and the convenience store has everything,” she says, adding she loves the community and the people in it.
And the people, Nam says, are what makes the community so special.
“You don’t see neighbourhoods like Inglewood in Calgary. It’s like a small town. Everyone knows everyone. They’re neighbours and I treat everyone here as a neighbour,” Nam says. “That’s what makes it so special. The people.”