Revitalizing retail spaces to develop diverse communities

For Mariana Garcia, the retail business is not just about the latest trends and the lowest prices. It’s also about building communities.

Garcia, who immigrated to Canada from Brazil several years ago, spent five years working for two women’s organizations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. As the social enterprise program manager for these organizations, she revamped two thrift stores and opened an art boutique for local artisans in the neighbourhood.

“It was a beneficial initiative, promoting products and services that reflect individuality and local culture. It helps to keep the money in the community and reduces impact on the environment because it’s not about chain stores and mass production,” she says.

Mariana Garcia runs Pop Villa, a business dedicated to setting up temporary shops for retail clients. | Photo by Dale Northey

Mariana Garcia runs Pop Villa, a business dedicated to setting up temporary shops for retail clients. | Photo by Dale Northey

A different approach

While working for the non-profit organizations, Garcia noticed a trend in the retail industry. Sales were seasonal, while retail stores would be open all year round. Therefore, she decided to start Pop Villa, a firm dedicated to opening up temporary stores for retail clients.

As Garcia explains, pop-up stores – using a temporary location to display and sell products – are a powerful marketing strategy that provide a safe and convenient way for new retailers to enter the market. The model works equally well for services offering point of sales for products or point of information for services.

“It’s a win-win situation for the retailers: they can test the receptiveness of the consumers without a long term commitment, create a unique shopping experience and positive brand awareness,” says Garcia.

For Garcia, her strong sense of social culture and Brazilian identity is embedded within her business ideals.

“I’m Brazilian with European background. Brazilian culture is less individualistic and more social. Both individualistic and social cultures have their positive and negative aspects,” she explains.

From the social culture that she was brought up, Garcia grew up in an atmosphere with close family ties and a strong connection with the people and environment around her – all of which have pushed her to build community in retail spaces.

“This social background [that I grew up in] helped me bring events ideas and entertainment to Pop Villa. In these retail stores, I always liked to organize in-store events [to] create a community feeling – a space for people to socialize – which also bring clients and increase sales,” says Garcia.

Pop Villa was also started with the goal of building more vibrant and diverse communities. When Garcia acts as an event planner for other companies, she provides retailers with a chance to diversify the local economy by offering different products from local companies.

“The pop-up shops are more than sales – they also help revitalize communities by bringing something new, exciting, and fresh to empty retail space,” Garcia concludes.

Building better communities

Alexis Morgan, an instructor at the Sustainable Development Program at SFU, sees diversity and cultural interaction as a source of innovation for the economy, and therefore a tool to build better communities.

“From a social perspective, cultural diversity builds understanding and compassion. From an environmental perspective, it can often provide insights to reduce waste and teaches us to think about taking advantage of local resources. From an economic perspective, cultural diversity fosters innovation and thinking differently. When all of these factors come together, they can help build communities with greater wellbeing,” says Morgan.

Garcia’s rich cultural background and appreciation for diversity have led her to have high hopes of operating large-scale kiosks in multiple locations in the future. Social values, social justice, human rights, equity, sustainability and fair trade are only a few of the things she hopes her business will breed. Diverse communities can also be added to the list, starting right here in Vancouver.