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December 6 2022

Small Business Award spotlight: Good Neighbour Community Market

The Good Neighbour Community Market storefront and interior with racks of clothes

Winning the SureCall Community Champion Award is our next Small Business Award spotlight: the Good Neighbour Community Market. This pay-what-you-want clothing market is relatively new in Calgary, but making a big impact for the folks who need it most.

From a fridge to a storefront

Good Neighbour began to meet a growing demand to collect clothes and distribute them to those in the city who need support.

Co-Founder Alice Lam started a community fridge and pantry in August 2020 to provide food to those in need, 24/7. But once the fridge gained some traction, she noticed other growing needs.

“After nearly a year of running the fridge,” she says, “we noticed a huge demand for clothing and a huge number of people wanting to drop off clothes.” So Lam and her team began to draft what a community clothing market could look like.

“We started hosting free clothing events, pop-up events partnered with vintage shops on that block to help organize,” she says. “They were super successful. We had just as many donations as we had stuff to give away. The demand was really high.”

Following the success of the pop-ups, Lam identified that Calgary needed a more permanent barrier-free clothing solution. In July 2021, not knowing if they’d be around for longer than three months says Lam, Good Neighbour Community Market opened its doors, and has been an invaluable resource in Calgary ever since, with a simple model: pay what you can.

“The idea is that people who can afford to pay will subsidize those who can’t. It’s been a year-and-a-half and it’s been sustainable.”

In only 17 months, over 100,000 pieces of clothing were given to the local community that would have otherwise gone to landfills.

“A lot of the time, people drop to Value Village or Goodwill. The problem is the pricing is quite prohibitive for the average shopper. Those stores have continual input of clothing donations, so a lot of it ends up at the landfill again. We’re getting it to people who need it.”

Community supporting community

Open three days a week, Good Neighbour has a good influx of donations in, contributions out, relying fully on volunteers to keep the market running.

“Getting people into volunteer roles is my passion,” says Lam, “but I’ve never seen an organization that has such committed volunteers, when the work is so hands-on and direct.

The market has 60 volunteers per week, performing all the tasks a store needs to function, but running solely on their desire to do good for those in their community. Many of these volunteers have stayed with Good Neighbour since the day they opened their doors.

The market is also a hot spot for the business community to aim their charitable giving efforts.

“We are a favourite among corporate Calgary in terms of annual giving campaigns, or sometimes they’ll have their employees come to volunteer.” Lam also sees groups come from businesses and non-profit organizations looking to do staff bonding while giving back, and donations from all corners of the city.

In the last year, Good Neighbour raised $80k to fuel their business. “Any money above and beyond rental cost goes back into the community in terms of food for the community fridge,” she says. “It’s a little social enterprise that helps us fund our other mutual aid initiatives.”

Good neighbours coast to coast

After less than a year-and-a-half in Calgary, the Good Neighbour Community Market won a Small Business Award and has received recognition as an important resource for the city’s vulnerable populations.

“Winning awards like this helps introduce us to different segments of the Calgary community who don’t know about us,” says Lam. “We’re all in our little bubbles, doing what we can to survive—a lot of businesses are just trying to rebuild at this point. We don’t have staff, funding to buy ads, or a marketing team, so it’s just based on doing good work and relying on word-of-mouth.”

Community builders from across the country have also noticed Good Neighbour’s impact and success, reaching out for information to launch their own initiatives.

“We’ve had people contact us from other cities like Edmonton and Halifax, wanting to learn what it took to start a storefront, how we trained our volunteers, and managed our finances,” she says.

“Just like the community fridges, we helped every city that wanted to learn to create their own community fridges, which resulted in eight community fridges popping up in Western Canada. In five years, it would be great to see more concepts like Good Neighbour pop up across the country. We don’t necessarily want our brand across the country; we’re sustainable because we’re volunteer-run.”

With the need for community support only growing, Lam envisions everyone jumping in to help over the coming years.

“We’re here to make things better for the community, so it doesn’t matter who does it. Hopefully, we inspire people to see that social enterprise is actually something that private businesses and non-profits can consider.”

Check out our full list of Small Business Award winners. For more information about the Good Neighbour Community Market, click here.