Ah, the good old GS25. From the parking lot of my apartment complex, there were two of these stores that would take less than a minute to get to. The closest one to me was right across the street from my front door and I could make it there and back home as if I had never left. The landscape of Seoul is dominated by these little stores, so if I ever feel in the need for a quick bite, a refreshing drink or a top up of my subway card, I can pop into a GS25, a CU, or a 7-11 and get what I need. It makes life very easy, and I was never at a loss for what I needed.
But this is not the reason that I will miss these stores with the one right across the street from my apartment being the one I will miss the most. It is the cultural experience that goes along with these stores that makes them different than any other convenience store I have seen anywhere else in the world. In most convenience stores, they expect you to pop in, get what you need and then leave. In Seoul, they have a bunch of tables and plastic chairs set up outside, inviting you to sit down and enjoy a little bit of time after you have made you purchase. It has all the charm of Paris cafe with all the class of a dirty Circle K. At first, I looked at it as something that I would never partake in, but eventually, I drank the Kool-Aid and took part of this cultural phenomenon.
Depending on the time of the day, different people can be seen sitting outside of these convenience stores, enjoying them in their own special way. After school, students on their way home will be eating quick ramen bowls while conversing with their friends. In the middle of the day, mothers with their strollers will converge here to enjoy a cold coffee. On the weekends during the summer, families will search through the cooler for individual ice cream cones that they can share quickly to get relief from the heat. And later at night, the older crowd gather to buy beer and soju and drink cheaply for a couple of hours. It makes these places look like they are always packed with people waiting to get in and enjoy the amenities there.
The GS25 outside of my apartment had a big patio and was a big draw for many people in the neighborhood, but mainly for the teachers that worked at my school. It became the center of the whole community without ever really trying to. I ran into many people at this place for a quick conversation, or to enjoy a moment to catch up out on the patio. There were many moments that I had a the GS25 and it was the start of many nights that led to other adventures and noraebang sessions. I was such a regular at my GS25 that the owner of the place would wave to me as I ran by on my runs. I am sure I will find other places in my future travels that will become important to me like this tiny convenience store became, but there will never be a place that will become a staple of my everyday existence.
In a time when convenience becomes a part of everybody’s lifestyle, Korea has found a way to make it a part of their culture, and a place to slow down from the busy lifestyle, if just for a moment, so they can come together as a community. It is because of this that I will miss the convenience stores of South Korea.