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First customers served roadside from truck
Dutch import store appealed to passersby with potato loss leader
Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill
NEW WESTMINSTER, British Columbia - Fifty years ago, a laid back intersection on the municipal border of New Westminster and neighbouring Burnaby turned into a regular destination for many Dutch Canadians. At the corner of Tenth Avenue and Kingsway they could find everything from boerenkool, rookworst and roggebrood, all locally grown or made, as well as imported foods to Dutch language books, records and kitchenware. Non-Dutch neighbours were enticed by one of the two stores to come and shop by a loss-leading potato special. Next door, also in a newly opened store, imported Dutch underwear, wool, tablecloths and runners, blankets, and made-to-measure suits and giftware could be bought.
The destinations were two very modest Dutch import stores, the deli and grocer Holland Shopping Centre and the dry goods supplier Blom Stores. Both attracted a loyal following and together they left their mark in the community in a significant way by also launching a Dutch Canadian shopper, soon to be become a Dutch newspaper.
A lot of planning and hard work took place before Dutch immigrant entrepreneur couples John and Helen de Haas and Hans and Catharina Blom opened their doors at 1004 and 1006 Kingsway, fifty years ago on February 28, 1958. The Dutch imports’ peddlers whose paths had crossed while calling on mutual customers, concluded that opening a store next to the other would be beneficial to both families. Holland Shopping Centre’s first employee, Lucy Oostenbrink, recalls that the steady stream of customers kept her busy.
Both De Haas and Blom were new entrepreneurs in Canada, but could draw on old country experience where each had successfully operated their own business, De Haas as a coal dealer in The Hague who also sold vegetables and Blom as a Leeuwarden dry goods dealer and clothier.
A few years earlier, in 1952, an overabundance of home-grown vegetables nudged John de Haas back on the road to sell his family’s surplus produce once his seasonal job in a local peat bog had lost its appeal. Supplemented with an assortment of fruits obtained from a wholesaler, De Haas went from door to door with his produce and built up a list of customers on whom he regularly called. It was a Dutch immigrant customer who, happy to see boerenkool (kale) on the truck, wondered if De Haas knew where to get Gelderse rookworst, the Dutch-style sausage. De Haas knew just such a place, and from then on sold that too. Other products, such as Dutch cheese, were added to the growing list that could be ordered at the canopy covered truck.
Blom, who also peddled his wares door-to-door in the Dutch Canadian community had customers dropping by his house if they needed something before his next house call or if they wanted to inspect a broader selection than he carried in his car. Burnaby business license inspectors took a by-the-book approach to these entrepreneurial immigrants who recognized that opening a store would keep them on the good side of the authorities. John De Haas modified his roadside selection and continued to call on customers till he sold his routes some years later to fellow entrepreneur Dirk de Boer, who also had owned a store in the Province of Groningen, the Netherlands.
Both stores quickly outgrew their location and each moved on the following year. Holland Shopping Centre moved several times and its third owner, the Slump family, now own two stores, sells online and produces their own brand of croquettes and bitterballen. Blom Stores was closed when the founders’ son Ted moved into another line of business. The newspaper founded by the stores as their customers’ bulletin is The Windmill Herald, the publication that you are now reading.