The first in a series of profiles that appear in Our Community, Our People, a special publication by the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
Tucked beside an alley on 224th Street, close to Dewdney Trunk Road, Taryn Stephenson Thoews spends her Saturdays vividly creating her own story, posting Facebook live videos and hosting photoshoots promoting the boutique shop she owns with her mother.
The shop is called Once Upon A Tea Leaf, a name that sums up Taryn’s approach not only to business, but her life.
“You create your own vibrancy,” Taryn said in summing up her business philosophy. “You can’t necessarily rely on the city, or the mayor, or the BIA to do everything for you as a business. You have to create your own energy and your own scene. That’s what we’ve done here and we love it.”
It’s something Taryn and her mother, Cindy Stephenson, have strived for over the past 10 years with their boutique tea shop.
She said from its inception, the goal has not been about building a bigger bank deposit, but rather creating a broader sense of community.
Taryn said over the past decade they have built a solid client base, but doesn’t like to look at the people who come through her doors as just customers.
“We don’t see them like that. They’re part of our tribe. They’re our friends. We love that we can open our doors to them and they’ve opened their hearts to us.”
She said the strong sense of community has been instilled in her comes from her mother, who encouraged her to be an active member of the community. Whether it was singing the national anthem at events or acting and working in community theatre, she’s always had a deep sense of community roots.
Going into business in Maple Ridge seemed like a natural progression of commitment to community. But she emphasizes that it hasn’t been without its challenges.
She’s not blind to the obstacles that face businesses in Maple Ridge, especially in the downtown core.
Homelessness is a topic that affects everyone in the community, especially those in the downtown core.
However, she said she believes the one way to overcome the challenge is for the residents of the region to embrace its small entrepreneurs who are investing in downtown Maple Ridge.
“We would not have it any other way, despite what some people would say about the downtown core of Maple Ridge, we love being in the hub of it. It’s a beautiful place,” said Taryn, who recently left her job at Virgin Radio in Vancouver to work on brand partnerships and sponsorships for a charity called Music Heals, a Vancouver therapy program for children with special needs, such as autism.
She encourages those who have given up on Maple Ridge get out of their cars and walk down 224th, experience a glass of wine, check out the new brewery opening up, go get their nails done, and explore what the downtown core has to offer.
“It’s special. There are boutiques there. It’s lovely. We just need more support for those who have had the courage to open a business and put their heart out on the line and invested a ton of money in this community.”
Taryn said they are fortunate to be in a place where their shop can really celebrate their own success story. She emphasized that the community has always been there to pick them up when they needed it.
“So now we go out into the world and try to pay if forward. We’ve done that even when we haven’t had much to give back. But it’s important to us to build up the community,” said Taryn.
Their most recent act of vibrancy for Taryn and Cindy was hosting a pop-up tea-ki bar social in the alley beside their store in mid-August. The event hosted more than 150 people that raised funds for the Ridge Meadows Association for Community Living’s Vicuna Art Studio.
“We transformed one of Maple Ridge’s forgotten alleys into a space that was loved. It was cool and vibrant.”
For Taryn, the event was another way to embrace the community is to get out and become part of it. She’s said it’s not entirely up to the city, the BIA, or some big monster mall that comes up with a solution, but rather a commitment from more people to get out of their car and shop local.
“But the truth of the matter is that I think it takes the right attitude and people having a commitment to embracing the community and celebrating the good things Maple Ridge has to offer for there to be a positive change. You see a thirst for positive change in our community and I think that comes from not only within but also from people willing to embrace it.”