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Community roots and heritage served by large Dutch product line

Customers are stores’ ambassadors

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

NEW WESTMINSTER, BC - Filling the community’s need for imported groceries, cheeses and deli products was the goal of Hollands Shopping Centre’s founder John de Haas even before his September 1947 passage to Canada was booked. Initially a peddler of such goods to newly arrived Dutch immigrants, it was not until February 1958, that the De Haas family opened its own store. Current owner Tako Slump who came to Canada over 35 years later, wants everyone to join him in celebrating the store’s 48th anniversary. All those turning 48 this year are invited to drop by the store on or before March 16 for their free package of top-of-the-line stroopwafels.

To Slump, Dutch stores are a primary purveyor of Dutch heritage and (food) traditions, a frequently overlooked component of their trade. “The stores,” Slump operates two, “can be the first port-of-call for members of the community if they want to use their roots and heritage in an event.” Some want to stick miniature Dutch flags on pieces of cheese on party trays, others are looking for hand-sized paper flags or run one up a pole or go low-key with a Delftware or Boerenbont piece.

Slump agrees that Dutch stores must assume a role beyond merchandising. As an example, with the help of volunteers he gradually expanded his role in the very popular annual Sinterklaas Welkom at the Westminster Quay. Started in 1986, by then Hyack Festival chairman Rick Spier, a Dutch-born community organizer, and his adhoc committee, the event invigorated when the store started to make poffertjes on site, contributing the taste and smell of something even more Dutch. The annual Sinterklaas event since has become one of the best special endeavours at the riverside public market. The rise of other area Sinterklaas appearances has not dented the public turn-out at the Quay or at the second Sinterklaas appearance, later in the day, at the store. Slump has been experimenting with other annual events such as the Queens Day and October’s Haringfeest (he invites people to down herring Dutch-style at the stores all year).

The store also has been running a mail order service, based on its annual catalogue. Started by second-generation store-owner Bas de Haas in the 1980s, the catalogue since has been expanded online by Slump who could be described as an unrelated third-generation owner.

As a purveyor of things Dutch, Slump sees a rising interest in roots and heritage but also changes in buying patterns. More people see Dutch groceries, of which the store has thousands of different items, as specialty items. Whether seen as staple or specialty, people often want to know where they can buy it themselves, resulting in referrals and new customers. “Our customers truly are the ambassadors for our product line.”