The Early Edition·Still Standing

A house of tiny treasures survives the decades in North Vancouver

In a narrow, industrial section of North Vancouver, surrounded by car dealerships and hardware stores, there’s a shop that’s filled with all kinds of tiny wonders for builders and designers: crown moulding, terra cotta bricks, Persian carpets, wallpaper, jail cells, chicken coops and so much more.

House of miniatures has been a destination for dollhouse builders and film companies

Mary Zhang, owner of Ross’ Treasure House, is pictured with one of her handmade flowers in her shop in North Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In a narrow, industrial section of North Vancouver, surrounded by car dealerships and hardware stores, there's a shop filled with all kinds of tiny wonders for builders and designers: crown moulding, terra cotta bricks, Persian carpets, wallpaper, jail cells, chicken coops and so much more.

Ross' Miniature Treasure House has just about everything for dollhouse makers, artists, and film companies looking for tiny set pieces. And if they don't have it, they'll make it.

Mary Zhang runs the shop these days. She was a dentist in China before she came to Vancouver, and she said she loves to use her hands to do detailed work.  

A tiny dollhouse rocking chair is one of many pieces of furniture for sale at Ross' Miniature Treasure House. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

No matter the request, she has an answer.

She once helped a young boy on the North Shore recreate a model of his school for its 100th anniversary celebration.

Another day, a customer came in and asked her to make a lobster using clay.

"So, I did it," Zhang said.

"I went to West Vancouver, bought a big one, studied the colour, and made it for him."

She made a few more that sold out.

Sushi is always a popular item, as are Zhang's miniature flowers, Christmas ornaments and wood pieces.

The shop is tucked away in the industrial section of North Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Decades of business 

The business was started in 1965 by her husband, Walter Ross Merrifield, before they met. He was an antiques dealer and visited a miniature museum in Hawaii.

He became intrigued by the idea and when he returned home, he started to make miniatures. Zhang met Merrifield about 20 years ago and started helping out behind the shop's counter shortly after. 

Now that Merrifield is older, he has taken a back seat to the daily operations. 

Some of the miniatures have appeared in local television programs and books. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Zhang said helping out at the shop hasn't always been easy. 

"You have lots of costs, building costs, property costs, shipment," Zhang said. 

She said keeping a hobby shop open in the Lower Mainland can be particularly challenging, as people move away. 

"Lots of hobby stores [are] now closed," she said. 

Zhang is nearing retirement age but doesn't plan to stop any time soon. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Satisfaction from success

But the shop has also had some claims to fame, helping with the television show Charmed.

Local author Holman Wang, who illustrates his books with handmade felt characters, has featured some of Zhang's miniatures in his art.

"I think the best thing is when you're helping people [be] successful, you feel successful yourself," she said. 

Although Zhang is reaching retirement age, she said she plans to keep going as long as she can.

"I just try my best," she said. 

Mary Zhang looks at her display case full of tiny curiosities. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For some of her regular customers, like Maureen Ryan, it's a reassuring message. 

"What's going to happen to this place if she doesn't keep running it?" Ryan said. 

Zhang says she gets a lot of pleasure from helping others build their dream projects. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Ryan has built two dollhouses with the help of Ross' Miniature Treasure House, and she was looking for a special display window to add to her current project.

"This is my dream place," Ryan said. 

"She's got everything and this excites me."

Still Standing is a series about the small businesses in the Lower Mainland that have managed to stay open despite the challenges. Listen every second Tuesday on CBC Radio The Early Edition.

If you have a suggestion for a store or business in the Lower Mainland that's been around for awhile and provides a specialized service, or has an unusual survival story, please email earlyed@cbc.ca

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