Polling website helps reap Harvest in Vancouver

Grocery store will feature local produce

Corralling community input on a new business might seem like a cunning marketing plan.

But one of the men behind a project that polled Vancouverites about a property on Union Street says it hasn't been easy.

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"It's not ingenious because there are a lot of issues," said Michael Leung, who owns the building at 243 Union St. "Just because someone votes for something doesn't mean they're going to be patrons of the business. And [it] doesn't mean they're going to vote for something that's necessarily profitable because lots of people have voted for community space, for example, which we would have tried to make work, and same thing with a small grocery store in a very quiet area."

Leung and Josh Michnik, who is a co-owner of the adjacent fashion boutique Charlie and Lee, launched their This Space polling website in September.

They asked Vancouverites to vote on what type of business they wanted. When they got that answer, they asked in turn for the type of local service the public preferred, the name for the business and which of six graphic designers should be chosen to brand it.

Leung and Josh Michnik hope to open Harvest, a local products grocery store and healthy meals eatery, March 1.

The business is meant to feature local producers and prepared salads, snacks and juices with seasonal menus and dine-in seating. Leung's planning to keep Harvest open until 9 p.m. since most of the other area markets close by 6 p.m.

He hopes to attract commuters rolling by on the adjacent bike route.

Leung's chef friend Trevor Bird, formerly of Market by Jean-Georges, is developing a menu and determining food costs so that the business at the base of B.C. Housing's Solheim Place can be both profitable and affordable.

Foodtree, a company based in Chinatown that uses technology like QR codes that customers can use to learn more about growers, is working with Leung on promoting local producers.

Graffiti at 243 Union St. and in comments on thisspace.ca have charged the project with gentrification. Leung said he wants to create a small business that will be profitable "and at the same time will have a positive impact on the neighbourhood in terms of providing a service that it values."

Leung and Michnik had planned to progress from one poll to the next only after they'd received 1,000 responses to each question. But the poll received just over 400 online votes about which type of business and then 200 on the type of local service. They're not sure how many voters hail from the immediate area.

The 38-year-old Leung not regret consulting the public on the focus of his future business.

"Any kind of business is pretty risky," he said. "I can't really have an opinion until it opens. If it opens and people support it, then it would be a good thing."

crossi@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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