Six months into a pandemic might seem like a risky time for a local retail store to make its debut, but owner Alex Luna thinks her new downtown Vancouver store, Kindred Homestead Supply, is uniquely positioned to thrive in the current business environment.
The home supply store is built around a concept that has received increased attention in an era of takeout food and online shopping: reducing plastic waste. Luna said she began developing the store concept before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but the months of quarantine helped illustrate the unmet need for refillable and zero-waste products.
“When COVID hit, I saw our single-use plastic go through the roof,” she said. “I think we all did.”
Luna set up shop in the basement level below 605 Main St. (605½, as Luna describes it). The bulk refill section is the first thing to greet customers as they walk into the store. A central table holds bulk dispenser tanks filled with soap, shampoo, cleaning solutions and other liquid products that are typically sold in one-time-use plastic containers.
The surrounding wall shelves are stocked with reusable containers and dispensers for home use, and Kindred Homestead Supply also stocks ingredients for customers who want to create their own mixtures.
Beyond the refill station, the store offers a range of other household products geared toward zero-waste, meaning there’s nothing left at the end of the product’s lifespan, such as a bar of soap, or the product is entirely biodegradable, such as wooden kitchen tools.
Luna said her goal was to stock the shelves entirely with products that are produced locally in Vancouver — or at least on the West Coast. She also sought to provide a wide range of options for customers seeking products that are gluten free, sulfate-free, eco-friendly and sustainable.
“Everything checks at least two of those boxes,” she said.
The zero-waste target applies to product price tags and packaging, too, she said, using all cardboard boxes and biodegradable packing peanuts.
Sustainability is the main pitch, but Luna said she envisions the store covering a couple of other bases, too, including restoring and reselling vintage products — what Luna refers to as “the OG of zero-waste.”
In the long-term, Luna said she wants to offer the store as a community gathering space and a place to host workshops and skill-building classes. That’s the one part that’s going to have to take a bit of a backseat until the pandemic is over, she said — for the moment, the group space at the back end of the store is only available to reserve for private events.
Luna has a background in retail work and has previously operated a vintage products mall booth and an online Etsy storefront, but Kindred Homestead Supply is her first foray into the world of permanent physical retail. She said she was initially inspired to begin developing the store after she took a master composting class last year — not only because of what she learned about environmental waste, but also because of the sense of community that emerged among the class participants.
That’s why the long-term goal is for the store to be a community space rather than just a retail outlet. Luna has lived in Vancouver for five years, and she said she was determined to find a local spot for the store in order to create that kind of community space in Vancouver.
“It was really important to me to remain in Vancouver, Wash., rather than going to Portland,” she said.
The 2,400-square-foot basement space was largely finished already, she said, so her tenant improvements consisted primarily of new paint and adding wood elements to the rear of the store to complement the exposed brickwork near the front.
The store’s name is intended to describe the kinds of household products that customers will find on the shelves, she said, with “kindred” referring to the phrase “kindred spirits,” pointing to the long-term goal of building the shop into a workshop space and community gathering destination.
By the time she began building out the storefront, the pandemic was already well underway. But Luna said the timing actually worked out well, because it meant she wasn’t blindsided by the pandemic and was able to prepare the store with an eye toward the current business environment.
“It feels like the worst time, but it also feels like the best time,” she said.
Kindred Homestead Supply opened Sept. 18. Its operating hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.