Lola's Gift Shop, a month-long pop-up located on the first floor of the Edmonton Downtown Farmers' Market (EDFM), aims to raise awareness about businesses in Chinatown, in addition to Asian- and BIPOC-owned businesses.
Developed through a partnership between the Chinatown Transformation Collaborative Society of Edmonton (CTC) and the creative collective I'll Call You Tomorrow (ICYT), Lola's will operate every weekend during market hours until Feb. 27.
CTC had been exploring ways to engage the community to increase visitors to the neighbourhood, said Alicia Chung, special events coordinator for CTC. Fortuitously, this lined up with ICYT's intent to create a multi-brand retail boutique, said co-founder and creative director Raeland Mendoza.
"Since our studio is located in CO*LAB, adjacent to the Chinatown and Boyle Street communities as well as downtown, early on we knew if we were to expand our physical retail strategy, it'd also have to reflect the parts of the city that are meaningful to us as a collective," said Mendoza. "That idea eventually became Lola's Gift Shop."
The partnership with the farmers' market came about from an existing relationship between EDFM and the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA), one of the key stakeholders that advocated for the creation of the CTC back in 2018. In years past, the market and the CBA had collaborated on several long-table feasts for nearby residents.
"It's an exciting opportunity for both (the CTC and the EDFM) to accomplish our respective and collective goals through collaboration," said Chung. "The CTC hopes to bring value by adding to the vibrancy and the existing community of incredible vendors at the EDFM, as well as finding at least one way to answer the question, 'If people aren't currently coming to Chinatown, how can we bring Chinatown to them?'"
Lola's Gift Shop plans to accomplish this by offering products from a mix of established Chinatown-based businesses and up-and-coming vendors, with an emphasis on businesses owned by people of Asian descent or people who are Black, Indigenous, or people of colour.
"Part of the fun in curating our brand list is pairing different scales of businesses," said Mendoza. "Similar to the diversity in Chinatown, each brand is in a different part of their respective journey."
Food and food-related products feature prominently among the 30 vendors sold at Lola's, which also spans art, home goods, and fashion. "Since we're Asian, there must always be food — really good food!" said Chung.
Brands currently available are Caramunchies, DRTY Ice Cream, Gourmai Dumplings, Hungry Zine, Mamahan Pastries, and Momma Tong, with plans to bring more well-known brands like Hong Kong Bakery and Ying Fat for special appearances.
Mendoza hopes that Lola's will ultimately lead more people to explore Chinatown, located just one block north of the market building on 97 Street.
"A benefit of having over 30 retail vendor partners in our brand list is that we now have over 30 additional platforms in the city to talk about their own experience with the neighbourhood," said Mendoza. "... (We) aim to bridge the gap for more Edmontonians to explore Chinatown."