British Columbia·Still Standing

Castle Sewing Centre in Surrey has served customers for three generations

The Fraser Highway in Surrey is now a busy road with chain stores and strip malls. Nestled back from the street is a small white house,with a big sign that says Castle Sewing Centre. This is latest in the Still Standing series on The Early Edition.

Grandson continues tradition that James Castle started 75 years ago. 

Clint Bulman and Stephannie Bulman in the Castle Sewing Centre's showroom. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Fraser Highway is now a busy road lined with chain stores and strip malls as it travels through the Cloverdale neighbourhood in Surrey. Nestled back from the street is a small white house with a big sign that says Castle Sewing Centre. 

That's where Clint and Stephannie Bulman are the third generation in the same family to help customers find supplies from needles and thread to sewing machines awaiting a try-out.

 
Castle Sewing Centre has seen a lot of changes on Surrey's Fraser Highway. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Carrying on the tradition

The shop has been there since James Castle built it in 1964. He used to work for Singer Sewing Machines in the 1930s, but wanted to open up his own business. 

Castle started in New Westminster in 1942 and then moved out to Surrey where he lived upstairs with his family and served customers downstairs. 

The garage is now a space for a large embroidery machine. In the back, Stephannie and Clint do repairs. 

Thread of all colours to serve customers at Castle Sewing Centre. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Clint grew up around his father's shop — who took over the business with his wife, Castle's daughter — and says the neighbourhood has moved away from its rural roots.

"Very country-ish. The Fraser Highway was only two lanes. Very rural here. But now of course it has grown up, very busy now." 

The shop has confronted the challenges of the modern era by mounting a bigger online presence and Stephannie says they work hard to show people their prices are just as competitive as the big box stores. 

They also offer classes upstairs where some fixtures remain from when Clint was a child, including wood panelling and a brick fireplace. 

Supporting the customers

The shop had a big setback in January 2018 when the Bulmans heard an early morning alarm alerting them to an incident at the shop. When they got there, they discovered a vehicle had lost control and hit a manhole and took down a power pole. 

The shop had water damage and the power was out. "For the first two weeks, we were operating out of a tent in the parking lot in January," Stephannie said. 

Staff at Castle Sewing Centre working at the shop. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

They set up a trailer after that and continued repairs and sales. Stephannie was impressed with the outpouring of support. 

"People would just show up with some cookies or some hot chocolate," she said, "or just to offer words of encouragement. It was lovely." 

She hopes one day, her daughter will take over the business. For her, it's not simply about an exchange of goods. "We want to nurture and support our customers," she said. "It's about a relationship, not just a purchase." 

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 a while and provides a specialized service, or has an unusual survival story, please email earlyed@cbc.ca

Listen to the full story here:

The Fraser Highway was “very countryish” when Castle Sewing first opened, more 75 years later it’s Still Standing. 5:36

With files from The Early Edition.

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