British Columbia·Still Standing

Business booming at Dressew Supply after nearly six decades

Dressew Supply has been in business for nearly 60 years and the business is still thriving.

The store was founded in 1961 and was heavily focused on millinery in its early years

Store owners David McKie, left, and his father Roger McKie, are pictured inside their store Dressew Supply in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Still Standing is a series about 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.


Fabric sells fast at Vancouver's Dressew Supply. 

"We're constantly restocking. We bring a load from the warehouse at least once a day and then we fill up from the basement on site here constantly, all day," said David McKie, one of the owners of the Hastings Street fabric and notions store. 

After nearly sixty years in business, Dressew's sales show no signs of slowing. 

McKie's father, Roger McKie first opened Dressew in 1961. In the beginning, hat-making was a major focus for the store. 

"Millinery was a big deal because all the women wore hats at that point in time," said Roger McKie. 

President of Dressew Supply Roger McKie outside his store in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The store has moved three times since 1961, but has always lived in the 300 block of downtown Vancouver — from its first space on Cordova Street to Pender Street 10 years later. In 1981, McKie bought the current building on Hastings Street. 

"So my whole life I've been in the 300 block," said McKie. "It's a long time."

A much smaller — and less yellow — Dressew Supply sits under the awning in one of its two previous locations, in the 300 block of West Pender, in 1974. (City of Vancouver Archives)

The younger McKie said his favourite part of running the business is when customers come to the store for the first time.

"They see the eight or nine thousand different zippers that we have and 15,000 different buttons and their eyes just go big like dinner plates," said McKie. "They're so excited because there's just nothing else like us — definitely in the Lower Mainland but even, we've heard, across North America."

Customer stands in one of the zipper aisles in Dressew Supply in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

McKie said people come from across North America to visit the shop and they've heard stories about flight attendants who look for layovers in Vancouver so that they can fit in a stop at Dressew. 

"We're lucky to be part of people's lives that way."

The secret to Dressew's success, said McKie, is the fact they own their building. Vancouver's real estate prices might have driven them out of downtown otherwise, he said.

"But we've also just been really lucky to be able to just keep doing what we're doing," said McKie. "We haven't tried to expand into a chain and we just kind of do our own little simple thing and people have supported us."

Thread sign hangs in Dressew Supply in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

A renewed interest in sewing and crafting has helped keep the business thriving in recent years.

"Social media has brought on a resurgence of sewing and crafting in a younger generation," said McKie. "Younger people especially are more concerned about the environment and trying to get away from fast fashion and they're more interested in making their own clothing."

Dressew's customer base is wide-ranging, he said — from design students to burlesque dancers and drag queens as well as home sewers making everything from kids' clothes to wedding dresses. 

And the store sells more than just sewing supplies. Their stock has an eclectic variety — anything from leather jackets to boxes of chocolates to hats in the shape of roasted turkeys.

Dressew stocks an eclectic variety of goods, including fabric, sewing notions and novelties. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"We take pride in that we're quite random," said McKie. "There's always a little bit of something that you're going to find here that you won't find anywhere else and maybe you didn't know you needed it until you saw it here."

Halloween is also an important time of year for Dressew. The store sells pre-made costumes but people also come for supplies to make their own unique creations. 

"And then with every Halloween more people find out about us because their friends drag them in to get a costume and then they go 'Oh what's this place? How long has this been here?' And we get new customers and new friends."

Listen to the full story here:

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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