Ken and his caregiver Ron Walberg try to visit Blue Line Sports in Haney Place Mall at least once a week.
Ken, who has special needs and often depends on a wheelchair, loves to see his friend Cheryl Sahota, co-owner of the popular Maple Ridge sports store.
However, Ken will soon no longer be able to visit his friend because, after 27 years in business, Blue Line Sports is shutting its doors by the end of January.
Walberg, who has known Ken for about 30 years, says they used to walk by the sports store all the time and Ken would “go nuts.”
Ken covets the sports items and he would obsess about getting things from the store so much that his behaviour would escalate to the point that security might be called, “unless you understand what’s going on,” said Ron.
But, he added, one day they started talking with Cheryl and she understood Ken right away.
When Ron suddenly says he has to leave the store, Cheryl immediately understands why.
“It takes a special person who recognizes that,” said Ron.
And, he said, her relationship with Ken is not unusual.
“I see her with others. People come to see her all the time, same thing. She treats everyone the same and that’s a quality that’s rare in people,” said Ron.
Cheryl, who has owned the business with her husband George since 1993, is emotional about closing.
She is going to miss all the friends she has made over the years, including one of her best friends, Kim Higham, who works around the corner in Haney Place Mall at Town Square Cobbler.
Kim is sad for her friend of 15 years, but also happy for her.
Cheryl said the store is closing for a variety of reasons. One is because of store closures in the downtown Maple Ridge mall.
Currently, there are nine vacancies in the mall.
Kin’s Farm Market and Black Bond Books have vacated the mall along with Rexall Drugstore. The latter’s space is now occupied by Bog Box Outlet Store.
Other spaces that were occupied by the luggage store Bentley and Payless Shoe Store, now known as Payless ShoeSource, remain vacant.
“When stores close in the mall, then traffic dies, and when traffic dies, sales die,” said Cheryl.
Another reason why Blue Line is closing is that the mall increased hours until 7 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Cheryl said that was a huge factor in their decision because she lives in Coquitlam and didn’t want to be arriving home at almost 8 p.m. each night.
Online shopping was also detrimental to her business. She said Blue Line just couldn’t compete with huge companies like Amazon, which can warehouse a huge amount of stock, while her store could not.
Her husband had been asking her to let the store go for the past couple of years, but Sahota had resisted, because she wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
But last year, the store was hitting the family financially and they decided to stay open for one more Christmas season.
At one time, Cheryl said, there were 14 Blue Line Sports stores across the Lower Mainland.
The one in Maple Ridge is the last.
“We were the first one and now we’re the last one. It’s sad to see,” she said.
But, she added, over the years, the store weathered a lot of change in the industry, especially when Sport Chek opened up in Pitt Meadows.
For 16 years, she also ran a Ticketmaster outlet from the Blue Line counter. That helped pay the rent.
The store also used to sell Greyhound tickets and took care of their customers’ packages.
Blue Line Sports has been in the community for so long that, Cheryl said, children who used to come in with their parents are now bringing in their own children.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, when she sold the small metal hockey net, a small playing area had been set up in the back of the store. A group of teenagers would still come to the store after school to play hockey with the mini sticks and foam balls that were available at the store.
All four of Sahota’s children have worked in the store and her grandson had even been working there for the past three years.
Her son Devin has been running it with her for the past eight years.
“That’s been pretty special,” she said.
Cheryl said one of her favourite items at the store was the one metre high Roberto Luongo bobble-head that used to greet customers at the front of the shop. Her son even carted it to Rogers Arena to have it signed by the former Vancouver Canuck’s goaltender, who was traded to the Florida Panthers before his retirement in 2019.
She said they would always hide an egg in the bobble-head for the annual Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association’s Easter Egg Hunt.
“They would come and look, even when it wasn’t Easter,” Sahota said of the children who passed by the store.
And she said she will also miss Halloween, when there would be lineups of children from one end of the mall to the other.
Sahota is trying to unload all of her remaining inventory. Everything in the store is 50 to 70 per cent off.
Right now, she doesn’t know what the next chapter of her life will be. She would like to work part-time to keep busy.
But, she is sure good things are around the corner.
“Change is always hard, but it’s also good.”