End of an era: Helmcken Market to close after 48 years as owners retire

Shanon and Garvin Tse spent a lifetime building the Helmcken Market, expanding it from a small, live-in-the-back corner store to a mid-size grocery where you could buy everything from bread and milk to flowers, pet food and a homemade sausage roll to go.

But now the friendly couple is packing it in.

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After 48 years, Shanon and Garvin plan to close shop on Oct. 18. They’ve sold the ­property to an undisclosed buyer and are in the process of ­winding down the business — a fixture at Helmcken Road and Watkiss Way near Victoria ­General Hospital long before the hospital was even built.

“Words cannot express the love and appreciation we have for everyone who has supported us throughout the decades,” the couple said in a Facebook post. “We hope to see your smiling happy faces before [we close].”

In an interview, Shanon said it’s time for them to move to the next stage in life — “a happy retirement.”

The couple, now in their 70s, recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They raised three children in the store and provided each with a ­post-secondary education.

Through the years, they expanded the property, buying neighbouring land to build the current 7,000-square-foot store in 1986.

At its peak, Helmcken Market employed 20 staff. Except for a four-month stretch early in the pandemic, it was open every day. Even during the legendary snowstorm of 1996, the market remained open to provide essential groceries and household goods, Shanon said.

“We were open on Christmas, New Year’s, our birthdays, all the holidays, and people really appreciated that.”

View Royal Mayor David Screech, who lives nearby, has been a regular customer for 25 years and said he’ll be sad to see the business close, but happy for Garvin and Shanon in ­retirement.

Screech said Garvin bakes “the best buns in all of Greater Victoria every morning, and his sausage rolls are very popular.”

The mayor called Helmcken Market “a core part of our community, a real community store … and on behalf of myself and our council I really want to congratulate them for the service they have provided to the town for so long. Garvin and Shanon have been such hard workers.”

Originally from Hong Kong, Garvin was an aspiring actor in his early days, appearing in several movies over a two-year period. His mother was born in Victoria, so he and Shanon decided to settle here, open a store and raise a family.

Heading into retirement, Shanon wants to travel as pandemic restrictions start to lift. Gavin still likes to entertain and loves to sing and play classical guitar. There will be more visits to Vancouver, where they can be closer to their daughter and two sons.

“It’s been 48 years of hard work, but now it’s our time to take it easy,” said Shanon. “We want to use our new time to enjoy our life.”

But the couple said they will miss their customers — many of them multiple generations of the same family — and the daily work of producing baked items and designing flower arrangements for the hospital auxiliary and visitors.

There’s been an outpouring from the community since the couple announced the closing. Helmcken Market was always considered a “go-to place,” where over the years you could drop off dry cleaning, mail a letter, rent a movie, grab a coffee, get a few groceries or a lot — even rent a carpet cleaner.

“We have been in this neighbourhood for 31 years and I can’t imagine it without you,” wrote Kathleen Sproule Carlow. “Your retirement is well deserved and we wish you all the best. Enjoy your time.”

In a post on Facebook, Bev Stevenson said: “My husband and I will always remember you fondly from the snowstorm of 1996 when you were camping out at the store and were there for the community when we needed you most! Fresh breads and meats and dairy…. Thank you so much for your dedication and caring for others all these years! Enjoy your retirement Shanon and Garvin.”

Customer Debbie Turner added: “We will miss your smiling faces. You made everyone who steps into your store feel very welcome and special.”

Another said: “We always stopped here on our horses for pop and chocolate bars. Tied the horses in the trees.”

Screech said no development proposals for the land have been submitted to View Royal council, though he said a future residential/commercial development is likely for the land bordered by Helmcken Road, Watkiss Way and Conrad Street.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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