Homegrown Business: Crystal Lau, Founder and Curator of Vancouver Vending Co.

Vancouver Vending Co. is a new local business that makes buying local art accessible and affordable, whilst highlighting local and up-and-coming artists. We spoke to Crystal Lau, Founder and Curator of Vancouver Vending Co., in order to understand how this company is positively impacting the community and the art scene in Vancouver.

Vancouver Vending Co.

What is your business called and what does it do?

Vancouver Vending Co. is an art vending machine that sells work from local artists around the city. We carry a bunch of different items including art prints, zines, stickers, cards, accessories and more.

What made you want to do this work?

It started during the pandemic in 2021 when I noticed that artists were losing out on opportunities to feature their work. I thought a vending machine would be a safe, “no-contact” way for people to buy and sell artwork without limitations around gathering. But more importantly, I wanted to find a fun, unique way to shine a spotlight on local artists in Vancouver.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

The vending machine makes art more accessible for the public and artists. We’re not like galleries or art markets where artists would need to have a large portfolio or inventory to be able to participate. Lots of the artists featured in the vending machine are students and emerging artists in the city who may not have a huge following (yet). I also want to prioritize artists from marginalized communities who are historically left out of traditional art spaces.

It’s also a really easy way for someone to get into the local arts scene and discover new artists! It’s an affordable and accessible entry point for someone who’s curious about art.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

The art vending machine is for art lovers, other artists, and anyone who’s curious about art! I think it’s especially important for me to spark interest from people who don’t know much about the local arts scene in Vancouver, there are so many talented people that deserve their flowers.

Vancouver Vending Co.

How does your business make money? How does it work?

I offer consignment to artists or purchase their work upfront at wholesale prices. The prices are all set by each artist individually, but I try to keep things affordable and pick items that are in the $10-$20 range. I also donate 10% of sales every month to different charitable organizations in Vancouver, with an emphasis on organizations that support arts in BIPOC/LGBTQIA+ communities. That way, there is a steady flow of resources that go back into our community.

For February and March, we’ll be donating to Hogan’s Alley Society!

Where in the city can we find your profession?

I think we’re the only art vending machine of this scale in the city. There are 30+ artists at any given time featured in the machine. I’m hoping to expand and have more machines soon!

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.

Why should I buy from Vancouver Vending Co.?

If you…

Are tired of being heckled at retail stores
Like to shop at your own pace
Want to support local artists AND give back to charity

Then come check us out.

What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?

The best part is definitely all the cool people I get to meet. I’ve been able to meet artists, organizers, and other people in the city who are passionate about their communities and breaking Vancouver’s stereotype of being cold/lonely/boring.

The worst part is when things get stuck in the vending machine. It’s an age-old problem for things like chips and chocolate (things that vending machines usually sell), and it’s EVEN harder with all the different things that we sell. I’ve been experimenting with the different items weight, packaging, etc. and hopefully, it happens less and less often.

What is your favourite joke about your own profession?

This is more of an inside joke with myself but I really overlooked the part of the business where I’d have to learn how a vending machine works. I was so excited about being able to work with artists that I completely forgot I’d also have to be responsible for operating the logistics of the machine. Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time on Youtube learning from strangers’ tutorials.

Where can we follow you?

You can follow Vancouver Vending Co. on Instagram. There you can keep up to date on the artists we’re featuring, new items, and where the vending machine is located.

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another local business that you love?

Not a local “business” per se but I want to give some love to two grassroots organizations in Vancouver that we’ve supported in the past few months. Vines Art Festival does some amazing work supporting Indigenous artists in the city and promoting land justice and decolonization. Yarrow Intergenerational Society works with low-income Chinese seniors in Chinatown and the DTES. They provide free medical accompaniment/translation and grocery delivery but what makes them really special are the cool art projects they do with seniors and youth.



About Naïka Toussaint 13 Articles
Naïka Toussaint is an avid lover of the arts. She currently works as an actor based out of vancouver. You can usually find Naïka reading, doing pottery or out on an adventure with her dog George Albert.Naïka is working with the Guardian as a community liaison.