‘This is really like a museum’: Victoria’s Chinatown to lose one of its historic stores this summer

'This is really like a museum': Victoria's Chinatown to lose one of its historic stores this summer
File Photo

Chinatown Fan Tan Trading Company, one of Victoria’s tourist hot spots and iconic stores, is set to close its doors permanently this summer.

The owner, Grathy Li, purchased the store about four years ago in 2017. Li then moved to Victoria from China with her family to operate the business.

“I really feel the store is so historical, it sells all the stuff like the same in China,” said Li. “A lot of antique, a lot of memories of when I was very young… It makes me feel [like] this is my home, my second home.”

Now, Li is leaving the province and moving to New Brunswick to pursue a college certificate. She says she ran into some issues with the work permit in her immigration application and is switching gears to obtain a study permit instead. At the same time, the store’s lease is set to expire next month.

Although she may be leaving, Li said she doesn’t want this to mark the end of the store.

“I think it’s so sad if this store just closed,” she said. “So I want to find somebody who wants to make this alive, make this store keep going.”

Chinatown Fan Tan Trading Company is more than just a store, Li explained. It holds the memories of all those who have walked through.

“I just fell in love with this store because I heard a lot of memories from here,” she said. “This is really like a museum. People [are reminded of] a lot of stuff [when they visit].”

READ MORE: Pop-up Chinatown exhibit showcases Chinese Canadian history, possible preview of a museum

Many customers have been coming to the store for years, like Victoria resident Wendy Kirkby, who used to live in Nanaimo.

“Whenever visiting Victoria, this was definitely one of the go-to stores,” Kirkby said. “It’s just always been here… My kids [would come] when they were little and now they’re adults and they still come through, and now my granddaughter too.”

In the summer, students in Grade 5 and 6 visit the store in a tour based on the childrens’ book White Jade Tiger, by Victoria-born author Julie Lawson. In the novel, the main character, Jasmine, visits the “Never Ending Store” — inspired by the Chinatown Fan Tan Trading Company — and goes through a door that transports her back in time.

It’s a nod to the store’s previous layout, Li noted, that would allow customers to walk all the way through the store, made up of several mini rooms full of merchandise, and through a door into Fan Tan Alley.

“You kept going and going and it’s like, where does this end?” said Cory Holden, who used to visit the store 15 years ago when he lived in Victoria. “And then you end up finding another exit and then you go out and you’re in Fan Tan Alley.”

The store was split into two in 2017, just before Li took over. The other half of the store is home to a furniture store nestled in Fan Tan Alley and the back exit is now the entrance.

Li said she hopes someone will step up to buy the shop — and the inventory at a discounted price — so the historical Chinatown Fan Tan Trading Company can stay open well past July.

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Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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