Calgary corner store a staple to Bridgeland community, more

Community Cornerstones series: A look at Calgary and area’s rich history of both new and old corner stores.

Little did Jim Lukes know when he opened a drug mart on the corner of First Avenue and Fourth Street N.E. in Bridgeland, it would grow to span three generations and change with the community around it.

“The store was started in 1951 by my grandfather Jim Lukes. My dad (Bob) took over in about 1985 and I’ve been running it probably about six or seven years,” said Gareth Lukes, calling from Vancouver where Lukes has just opened its fourth location (the other two are in Killarney and Renfrew).

In the 1950s, the store included a lunch counter and variety store in the nearby DeWaal Block building. Both a doctor’s office and hair salon came and went in the 1970s and ‘80s, and a house beside the original building was demolished to make way for a parking lot.

Gareth, 27, has been working in the store since he was about 15. He said despite its transformation over the years, the original Bridgeland location still provides “essential services” to the surrounding community.

“Bridgeland’s not really set up in a way that we have the means for a grocery store or the resident density to justify having a grocery store in it,” he said. “So we’re there to provide a grocery, a post office [and] pharmacy essential items.”

“The people are super friendly,” former Bridgeland resident Blair Berdusco said of Lukes staff. “[And] they have Fiasco Gelato!”

While “traditional” corner stores in Calgary are gradually leaving the landscape – Mary’s in Bowness, due to flood damage, Burt’s in Windsor Park due to development and others closing their doors for good – Gareth said Lukes has evolved through the years to accommodate change in the community.

“Trying to embrace change, I think that’s probably the biggest thing,” he said. “So if the district is changing, you have to change with the district. Like the store we’re running in Bridgeland right now did not look anything like it does now because it didn’t have to. The community didn’t require it to be upscale, but now we have to sort of cater toward different demographics, cater toward the neighbourhood changing.

“We do have a lot of affluent people shopping in the store. but we also have a lot of people who aren’t as well off. So we have to sort of have a fair balance between both those demographics. That’s one thing we’re really trying to work on.” Owning a drug mart wasn’t exactly in Gareth’s future plans during his late teens. While still in high school, he ran an independent record label, putting on all-ages shows around the city.

When he was about 19, his dad was having issues keeping up with managing the store, so offered his son the position of store manager.

“I never thought I’d be doing this 10 years ago,” said Gareth. “The only reason I’ve stayed with it and took over the stores entirely was that I felt we were making a real difference in the communities that we serve – as well as by ignoring most of the rules and guidelines of what retail pharmacy is supposed to be. I feel we’ve created something that transcends the monotony of the industry.”