After 26 years of near-continuous operation, Sam and Shirley’s Grocery is closing its doors for good.
Owners of the Queen Charlotte convenience store, Sam and Shirley Leung will leave Haida Gwaii in early August, first moving to Vancouver for a couple of years then permanently to Hong Kong to spend their retirement years with family.
“It’s sad to leave, but I will come back to visit friends,” says Shirley. “I really want to thank all the Haida Gwaii for supporting our business for 26 years.”
Open 13 hours a day, seven days a week and staffed exclusively by the Leungs themselves, Shirley is looking forward to a rest, but Sam says he’ll miss those long days.
“I’ve always loved it. It’s easy to get through the day because you come to me, we talk and then you pay me money,” he says with a big laugh. “I talk to people all day and make money—that’s pretty good.”
The Leungs came to Queen Charlotte in 1990 after agreeing to purchase what was then an auto body shop from a personal friend. However, when they arrived they realized the deal was not as glowing as assured.
The previous owners left town before fulfilling their promise to train Sam and Shirley in managing and operating the shop.
Then, about one year into the business, industrial chemicals were also beginning to affect Shirley’s lungs. Something had to change, but their options were seriously limited as neither spoke a word of English.
But they had three young daughters depending on them, so they made a quick decision to start selling a few confection items at the counter.
Within five years they knocked down a wall and got rid of the body shop for good, transforming the space into a unique, ramshackle convenience store for which they’re so well known today.
Regular patrons of the store will remember the Leungs daughters growing up in the shop, helping with the duties and finishing their homework behind the counter.
All three daughters are now in their early to late 30s, and living in Hong Kong. Patrons will also have many memories of being quizzed by Sam or Shirley over the meaning or pronunciation of a new word they had just learned.
It was by this method, in large part, that the couple eventually learned to speak English.
When speaking with the Observer, the couple firmly but politely requested that the story mention their gratitude for the community’s patience and generosity over the years.
“At the beginning it was very hard to ask for help—’Excuse me, but how do you say this, How do you spell this?’—but it was very helpful,” says Sam.
Shirley adds, “All the islands were our teacher. We will miss it here.”