By any measurement, a quarter century of work in one field is a career worthy of proud accomplishment. But for Marleen Flumerfelt, who opened Tsawwassen's beloved Toys and Tech 25 years ago, she's not ready to call it quits any time soon.
"In a perfect world, the store would go on in perpetuity because it's a very social thing," says Marleen. "It's not just an economics situation. It's social. You get to meet people, you get to know your neighbours, you get to know the people on the street. And that's something I think you don't get in every job."
It was 1993 when the mother of two young children (then aged 3 and 8) opened up a 500-square-foot space inside the Tsawwassen Town Centre Mall.
Marleen and her family had recently moved to Sunny Tsawwassen from Vancouver because she wanted to raise her children in a small town that reminded her of her own childhood.
Although she had a background in accounting, when it came to the question of finding a job she realized the answer was running around her house with the pitter patter of tiny feet.
Her children were always asking for toys, and without a toy store in Tsawwassen it meant driving through the George Massey Tunnel to Richmond. What's more, Marleen reckoned being self-employed would give her the freedom and flexibility to work around her schedule as a mother.
"Little did I know that being an entrepreneur is a full-time 24/7 job so it's a lot more difficult than I thought," she recalls, chuckling. "But, you know, it was great. I loved it and the kids loved it and it just grew."
After four years at the mall, her business outgrew the space and she moved across the street to a 1,000-square-foot property. A few more years went by and she knocked down a wall to double that figure, filling every square inch of the space with toys.
Speaking of toys, a lot of people "get" the first part of the store's name, but where exactly does the "tech" come in? Marleen smiles.
When the store opened in 1993, she used to carry Sega and Nintendo games, along with Shareware computer games, which were quite popular at the time. As well, many toys, both then and now, come with technology that teach children to learn to read, write, solve puzzles and other educational features.
These days, the store sells more than just toys and technology. Last year, Marleen decided to merge her secondary store, Unforgettable Gifts, with Toys and Tech. So while shopping for the kids, parents can also check out teapots, keychains, jewellery, colourful socks, and many other knickknacks. Marleen says she tries to ensure the products are Canadian-made and local, from places like Vancouver Island, Saltspring, Gabriola, Kelowna and others.
This mom and pop shop has survived a quarter century of changes in retail, from the rise in online and crossborder shopping to the proliferation of nearby "big box stores" from international retailers. But Marleen says it's just part of being a "brick-and-mortar" store. Merchants have to "evolve" and "reinvent" themselves to stay competitive in a tough market.
What she says sets her store apart from a big box store is the kind of customer service you can only find in a small town like Tsawwassen.
"What we offer them is great, the service is great, we know everybody, we know their children's names. If somebody's having a birthday party we usually know about it. We know what presents other kids have bought. You can't get that kind of service everywhere."
After 25 years, Marleen says things have come "full circle" for her. The children who used to buy toys for themselves are now buying them for their little ones, just as her youngest son (who was just three when she opened) brings in his own little girls.
Come in and say hello to Marleen during your Christmas shopping and check out the store. You can even enter to win a game and puzzle contest ($385 value) with no purchase necessary!
Toys and Tech is located on the east side of 56 th Street just past the Tsawwassen Town Centre Mall stoplight.