For 35 years, Mary Carter has been a fixture in Steveston, satisfying Richmondites with her quintessential British sweets and pies at her namesake shop – Mary’s British Home.
Maltesers, black jacks, flake bars, jelly babies, wine gums, licorice allsorts... Carter’s back wall of candy jars is enough to drive a dentist mad.
“I could eat a whole jar in one sitting,” chuckles Carter, 82, salivating at the sight of her licorice allsorts.
Alas, she is packing up shop Aug. 26 to re-open in Langley, nearer to where she lives.
“I have the best customers in the world. It’s been fun, but you know I’ve advanced in years and they’re catching up with me. Travelling back and forth is getting a bit much,” said Carter, who was born in Birmingham, England in 1935.
She moved to the U.S. in 1962, where she spent 10 years with one of her sisters. They then moved to Surrey to meet up with their oldest sister and mother.
In 1979 Carter set up the first Mary’s British Home at Richmond Square, a strip mall on No. 3 Road that preceded Richmond Centre.
“There weren’t very many specific British stores selling all the different kinds. Woodward’s, do you remember Woodward’s? Well they sold one or two bits. On $1.49 Day they had the chocolate biscuits. Now they’re $5.99, that’s in 30-odd years,” she chuckled.
Three years later, re-development forced her into Steveston. For 10 years she worked out of a back street but then took a more prominent position in the village at the southwest corner of No. 1 Road and Moncton Street. Ten years ago, re-development shuffled her to her present location on Chatham Street.
Carter is especially fond of selling her pies, which have been baked by the same baker for more than 30 years.
“He knows how to put good stuff in them,” Carter laughed.
But as people of European descent move away from Richmond, Carter said her customer base has depleted.
“The demographics are changing very much in Steveston and there isn’t so much a call for British stuff. And I’ve been very welcomed in Langley. South Surrey has a lot of my customers now,” she explained.
Carter said in the last 35 years, she’s seen the most rapid change in her customer base over the past two years.
“My British customers would start coming in and telling me they were moving. And then I started to worry because they were mainstay customers. It all started about two years ago.”
Gentrifying forces are at play, too. Her lease at $25 per square foot expires this month, and nearby new developments are edging toward $40 per square foot.
Over the course of four decades, Carter has been one of many village merchants with an astute pulse on the village.
“The best time was when my husband (Raymond) was alive and we did this together. He liked the customers and he liked to come here and chit-chat when he came from work,” recalled Carter.
Although she no longer has a desire to visit Britain again, her Royal Family paraphernalia scattered around the shop attests to her proud British heritage. Will and Kate are “new blood” and “a breath of fresh air,” she says.
“I’ve seen most of [the Royal Family] through my life. When I was little they used to line us kids up against the road and they’d come in horse and carriage.”
Carter recalls, at age nine, victory parades in Birmingham when World War II ended.
“I remember my dad called me over to the radio because they knew there was going to be an announcement. And I heard Churchill acclaiming the war was over with Germany. All of a sudden everybody came pouring out of the houses. I can still remember, it’s a bit emotional. It was the end of the war.”
And so, with much turmoil in the world, Carter – who has three adult children, three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren – leaves these parting words to Richmondites: “Just be happy.”
Finding purpose, one smoothie at a time
Steveston’s newest merchant Braeden Ralla, 27, says he is hoping he’ll drive people toward their purpose in life – one smoothie at a time.
In June, the young, independent entrepreneur opened Purpose Smoothie Co. on Bayview Street, next to Blenz Coffee.
Ralla, a lifelong Richmondite, said he was inspired by the way his mother Devi Ralla lived her life. Last December, he lost her to cancer but has since turned his energy to his new, health-focused venture.
“The inspiration behind Purpose is the way my mother lived a purpose-driven life. She was the most inspirational person I ever met and really just happy and positive all the time. So the name came from how she lived life. One of my goals is to educate people on the importance of eating healthy and the difference it can make on us, both mentally and physically,” said Ralla.
Indeed, mom Devi was a high school teacher and a positive force for change in the community. Up to the end of her battle, she was helping raise money for cancer research.
“It was the worse day of my life at the time,” said Ralla of the moment he found out his mom had cancer.
“It was devastating; we are a really close family. I’ve been blessed to have a close family.
“When something like that happens it really puts into perspective how the world stresses and gets mad at so many little things and holds grudges. The little things that matter are being around family and being with the friends that you love,” said Ralla.
An egg allergy since childhood had always meant Ralla had to get “creative” when it came to breakfast, so smoothies are familiar to him.
“I started really looking into natural healing powers and what real food could actually do for your body. So I started to realize our bodies are made for real food and not just medicines from doctors,” said Ralla.
So far the menu is short, simple and priced competitively. There are no added sugars or artificial preservatives, as is the case with smoothies found at franchise shops.
“I think smoothies are an important way for someone to get so many nutrients in just one drink,” said Ralla.
He uses unsweetened, organic almond milk and brown rice protein powder in many of his creations.
The frozen fruit gives Ralla’s smoothies the icy viscosity – no ice necessary.
He’s slowly adding healthy, all-natural fruit and salad bowls to the menu, and for winter, he’s experimenting with grandma’s homemade East Indian recipes for hot soups.
Ralla was helped by his homebuilding father Jerry, who took it upon himself to renovate the space.
“I wanted to create a positive atmosphere where anyone of any age can come in here and, however unique anyone is, they come here and get positive advice and feedback from us to find their purpose. A lot of people ask why my mom was so happy and I think she just did things she liked to do. When you do that you’re going to be smiling and you’ll chase things with your heart.”
Ralla had a few nervous butterflies, however. He wanted to open the shop last year, but got cold feet, so he kept teaching basketball.
His mom’s death reminded him of what he needed to do.
“The way she taught me she wouldn’t want me sitting around crying. Yes, I have those days, but I try my best to continue her legacy by living the life she taught me to. And that’s by staying positive and moving forward.”