A business that has operated on the Semiahmoo Peninsula since 1940 was boarded up last week, following the death of its eccentric owner.
Surrey deputy fire Chief Karen Fry confirmed Wednesday that the city began working with the family of Barrie Cohen “to address issues” with the Old Curio Shop property after Cohen died early this month at age 72.
Cohen had run the shop, located at 1430 King George Blvd., since 1950, for more than two decades. Over the years, its profusion of secondhand items stacked floor to ceiling – with barely a path to navigate amongst them – became the stuff of legends, even showing up in online antique-collecting and ‘picker’ blogs.
Cohen’s sister on Wednesday asked through Peace Arch News that people stay away from the property, as it is in transition and the family is working with Surrey fire and bylaw officials to address various issues and keep it secure.
She said the family didn’t want to draw attention to their brother’s death, but did provide an obituary that offered a glimpse into his life.
Cohen was one of eight children, and attended Semiahmoo High School. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of B.C., and studied genetics at the University of Toronto before teaching on the topic at the University of Saskatchewan.
In the early 1970s, Cohen got into the arts, and worked for a time as a photographer for the White Rock Sun newspaper, the family notes.
Cohen died at Peace Arch Hospital on May 2, and will be “greatly missed.”
Area residents who contacted PAN described Cohen as “one of the most recognizable characters in White Rock.”
“Rain or shine, hot or cold, he always had a winter hat with ear flaps, a parka,” said Cam McCubbin, who first bumped into Cohen at a garage sale nearly 30 years ago. “He went to all the sales in town every weekend.”
McCubbin said Cohen dealt mainly in china and other collectibles; his collection growing in leaps and bounds following the death of his mother in the early ’90s.
“After she died, Barrie sort of accumulated and accumulated and accumulated. There was china stacked from the shelves down to the floor. It was pretty incredible.”
McCubbin said while many people may have judged Cohen by his outward appearance, if they had taken the opportunity to talk with him, there was much to learn.
“I think a lot of people were afraid to talk to him, because of his appearance,” he said. “If you did talk to him, it was surprising – very educated and intelligent.”
John Toews said he met Cohen “through chatting on the street,” and recalled that Cohen once bought a hunting knife from him at a garage sale.
Fry described Cohen’s death as “a big loss” for the family.
The fire department’s focus now is on keeping the building secure, she said.
The City of Surrey had been dealing with complaints regarding the property’s tidiness since 2009, and in December 2011 sent out a crew to clean up the front area.
“As far as the fire department is concerned, the building has numerous issues,” Fry said.