How one K-pop store in Toronto caters to fans looking for affordable music

Located near Danforth and Woodbine, LightUpK provides K-pop fans in Toronto affordable albums

the inside of the LighUpK store in Toronto, with shelves of kpop-related products
LightUpK's Toronto store is a space created by kpop fans, for kpop fans. (LightUpK/Google) 

For many Canadian K-pop fans, finding the right place to buy their favourite group’s albums or lightsticks can be a never-ending labyrinth, on top of the high costs of albums.

Enter LightUpK, an affordable K-pop store located in East York on Danforth Avenue, dedicated to international fans struggling with overpriced albums and dreading shipping fees, alongside other problems they face as global fans.

Founded in 2020, LightUpK was originally an online store, with an additional company for Korean beauty products.

“Our official launch was in February 2022, but we did have a K-Beauty company called Mercy Cosmetics,” said Anne Shea, one of the co-owners of LightUpK.

LightUpK opened up a Toronto location in 2022, another in Montreal, and a location in Edmonton.

To set LightUpK apart from other stores, its goal is to make K-pop affordable.

“All of us at LightUpK are K-pop fans ourselves and we have been for years now,” Shea said. “Buying albums from Korea means you get hit with a lot of customs and shipping fees.”

Trying to get albums in Canada, wasn’t the most affordable, as Shea stated. Some stores were around to give fans a few options, but Shea decided to add LightUpK into the mix.

The K-Pop industry

K-Pop stands for Korean popular music, which is a mix of pop, dance, hip-hop, electronic and various genres in music.

The big names in the industry, such as BTS, BLACKPINK, Stray Kids, and SEVENTEEN made K-Pop explode in popularity internationally.

Currently, BTS have 28.8M monthly listeners on Spotify, as well as 74.5M followers on Instagram.

“At the moment, I think our top-selling album might be 5-STAR,” said Shea. 5-STAR is the title of K-pop group Stray Kids’ recent album.

Many people love K-pop because there are a variation of different genres within it that anyone can dive in to.

In addition, the extensive choreography and production value are taken into heavy consideration.

Albums at LightUpK cost between $20 – $45 dollars. On their website, many albums are on sale from their original prices.

In 2022, it is estimated the industry generates around 11 trillion won (about $10.98 billion CAD).

Main entrance to LightUpK
Upon entering LightUpK, various albums are on display (Stephanie Jendres/Toronto Observer).

An accessible location

Inside the store, there is a comfortable seating area to open up albums. Around the store, there are walls upon walls of albums and posters.

K-pop fans come into the store to chat with their friends, watch music videos displayed on the TV, or to simply buy products.

LightUpK holds both in-person and online events, at a reasonable price. Some events may be $6 or $12.

Events such as the Montreal K-pop Dance Workshop at its Montreal location, and there is a board that lists in-person events.

Choosing the location of LightUpK was a vital thought for the owners.

“We wanted to find a place that was affordable, not too close to any other K-Pop stores nearby,” Shea said.

“One of the prime things we thought about is having a subway station nearby, because we know a lot of people don’t necessarily drive, especially younger K-pop fans.”

On social media, LightUpK shares store news and sales info, unboxings, giveaways and event announcements, so k-pop fans can connect with the store and community even if they’re not in Toronto.

Regular fans support wide mix of artists

Since the opening of the store, Shea said there has been a diverse mix of K-Pop fans coming in.

The Toronto location has albums arranged by the name of the company. For example, there is one section dedicated to HYBE, as BTS and other popular groups such as TOMORROW X TOGETHER are under this label.

“We do try to carry as many artists as possible and you do often get the same rotation of K-Pop fans,” said Shea.

“Because we do have a lot of diversity when it comes to our albums, I do see people buying recently debuted groups, or older groups if they want to show some support.”

LightUpK also sells Lightsticks, magazines, merchandise, beauty, and other K-pop related products.

Those living in the U.S and Canada don’t pay extra customs or duty prices on their purchases.

Buying affordable merchandise

With rising prices in almost every industry, keeping music affordable eases the stress on K-pop fans.

“As a university student, keeping up to date with my favourite artists helps me forget the pressure put on me,” said Toronto Metropolitan University Student Mena Maraj on Zoom.

Board of in-person kpop events
An event board at LightUpK with notices of K-Pop events. (Stephanie Jendres/ Toronto Observer)

“Buying merchandise makes me euphoric and motivates me to afford more, but prices are too high.”

On websites such as Weverse, products from different artists in the K-pop industry are expensive.

Although the prices may look reasonable, the albums are directly shipped from Korea. This results in a higher customs fee to be paid.

In all her 13 years of being a K-Pop fan, she remembers when a single album cost $25, compared to now being around $90-100 CAD.

Maraj believes it is harder for more affordable K-pop stores to be opened.

“Considering inflation and the economy, the cost of materials has most likely increased, causing stores to raise their prices to break even and profit from the sale,” Maraj said.

Despite the high prices, the demand for K-pop albums still continues to rise, making K-pop fans work harder to buy music from the artists they idolize.

“I will admit that higher album prices give me an incentive to work harder to buy one album,” said Maraj. ‘But comparing the prices now compared to years ago makes me sad.”

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Posted: Apr 16 2024 9:00 am
Filed under: Arts & Life Entertainment Music Spotlight On Small Biz Unique Business