Laura Shaw

Laura Shaw

Longtime White Rock business owner to bid adieu

Loyal customers frustrated by changes in community, says Laura Shaw, who will close shop this month after 39 years

After 39 years on White Rock’s uptown strip, Laura’s Fashion Fabrics is to close for the last time on March 31.

But while the store will no longer be a fixture on Johnston Road, owner Laura Shaw said its disappearance – the building it has called home since 1978 is to be demolished to make way for a 23-storey seniors tower – won’t be the end of her sharing her lifelong passion.

“We’ll do something with sewing in the community,” she said, of plans to offer lessons and other assistance already discussed by her and her longtime staff.

“I don’t think we’ll be done. We’re not ready to retire. We’ll regroup and decide where this road’s going to take us.”

The decision to close was not made overnight, and Shaw said it is one that has evoked tears – both her own and those of longtime customers.

“It’s sad for people,” she said. “Customers coming in are very upset. They’re not mad at us. They’re mad at the city… the way it’s not become a community anymore.

“All the character’s gone.”

Shaw said she and other tenants in the 1500-block of Johnston were told in November 2015 that they would have to leave by the end of December 2016, to make way for the $100-million rental retirement development. It is to be built on three lots, including one on George Street, with ground-breaking expected this April.

The date was then extended until the end of this month – but the extra time didn’t impact the end result.

A request to rent space in the completed project, which is to include a two-storey retail and amenity building fronting Johnston Road, was denied, and extensive searching for a storefront elsewhere on the Semiahmoo Peninsula proved fruitless.

“We looked at tons of places,” Shaw said, naming Central Plaza, Royal Plaza, Ocean Park and Grandview Corners as among sites explored without success.

In addition to being the right price, “it had to feel right,” she said.

Wednesday, as customers – many of them clearly regulars – browsed discounted fabrics, notions, machines and patterns, Shaw couldn’t help but tear up as she recalled how she came to own the store.

She was 21 when a friend of her parents in Crescent Beach suggested to Shaw’s dad that the friend and Shaw buy a fabric store that was up for sale on Johnston Road.

When the friend couldn’t make the 7 a.m. meeting with the real estate agent, Shaw’s dad, Jim – who passed away last year –  insisted Shaw and he still go. Shaw admits that at the time, she would have been happy to just go back to bed.

“Then, we just bought it. Just me,” she said.

“Dad made all those shelves,” she added, pointing to fixtures around the store. “We got them up here in his truck.”

Over the years, Shaw said she “fought hard” for things she felt were important, including the crosswalk that connects Central Plaza, which city officials have at least twice recommended removing.

Little of what’s left in the store isn’t up for sale. Shaw plans to keep a pair of handmade wooden scissors that a customer recently gave her, but not much else.

She described her customers as a highlight of being in business – getting to know them, teaching them, seeing them improve their skills and “watching their families grow… and what they’ve sewn for each other.”

“It’s so nice to see them evolve. They don’t realize how much they’ve improved.”

Shaw also praised her staff – Johanna Mramor, Shirley Calvert and Linda Neufeld – two of whom have worked in the store for the past 30 years.

While Shaw plans to take a couple months off after closing – and perhaps go on a vacation – she said she is curious what the future holds for White Rock. Storefronts and businesses that made the city unique are disappearing, she said.

“With all this change happening so fast… you don’t feel as attached,” Shaw said.

“Development is good. I’m the first one to say this building needs to come down. You just wonder… what are we going to create in the end?”

Laura's Fashion Fabrics