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The skinniest building in the world is still open for business in Vancouver

Despite COVID-19 pandemic measures, this sliver of a building remains open. How?
Photo: Jack Chow Insurance / Facebook

It is hard to imagine that the 'skinniest building in the world' could stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic while adhering to safe physical distancing rules, but it does.

Vancouver's iconic Jack Chow Insurance building has been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the Narrowest Building in the World. And, despite it's extraordinarily slender stature, it remains open for business.

But you won't be going inside this sliver of a building anytime soon.

In order to keep staff safe, the Jack Chow Insurance Building uses contactless service to its customers. Instead of serving within its narrow 4 foot 10 inch interior, it is using the exterior, which spans an entire block wide 100 feet of frontage.

This new process is done with proper social distancing and with sanitization and safety at each of its four stainless steel glass-enclosed covered insurance window wickets.

Customers are able to park for free at the building’s large customer parking lot at the back of the building, then just walk around to the front and step up to one of the 4 window wickets where they can lay out their documents on the stainless steel counter and show their ID through the glass. After each customer use, the wickets are sanitized to provide for a fresh disinfected environment for the next customer.

For signing documents each customer is provided with a gift of a safe, untouched by human hands, steel pen with a special device to activate pin pads and kiosks to use immediately and keep as a souvenir. Licence plate and insurance documents and decals are issued instantly and safely through a special slot at the base of the window with an internal safety flap.

Rod Chow, President of Jack Chow Insurance, says that this unique Contactless Window Wicket Service is working out extremely well and that customers really appreciate it.

Back in 1913, this historic landmark building was built on a bet with service on the sidewalk. Now, over 100 years later, this practice has become the norm again due to physical distancing.

“When my father, Jack Chow, installed these window wickets over 20 years ago he had no idea of how much practical use we would get out of them today, after all, we are in the Insurance business which is generally something you do not think of transacting through a window wicket. In fact, up until now, we have not had a lot of use out of them as customers preferred to come inside. Originally they were part of a renovation, under the full blessing of the City of Vancouver, to bring back a historical use of the building which was to serve customers out of the windows," explains Chow.

"But we were not serving dry goods or hot dogs, we were serving insurance, so for each wicket my father added a structurally reinforced stainless steel counter for signing documents, and then went a step further. To ensure a safe environment for both the staff and client, he made sure that the wicket was enclosed with tempered laminated glass in the front, sides and curved overhang. Instead of the window sliding open upwards as it used to in the 1900s, which would be a weather and security concern, he had the window fully sealed with communication through the window via a professional high end two-way theatre system. Any documents and licence plates going back-and-forth were through a locking safety slot at the base. It certainly was really great foresight on my father’s part to have these installed with not only functionality but with safety being paramount.”

As you walk over the lighted glass sidewalk, music pipes out onto the sidewalk. Chow, also an international magician, does not shy away from providing a bit of alchemy for those who request it. However, he isn't physically picking cards out now - it’s all done safely and socially distanced from behind the glass. With that in mind, the music and the smiles are needed during these times. 

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