South Harbour Fish & Gift Shop owner Wilson Chiu (left) with his cousin and store manager Jonathan Lee.
Photo courtesy Wilson Chiu
Mom-and-pop store offers fresh fish, seafood
By Samuel Cheng
Published 11:48 PDT, Fri June 10, 2022
In the seventh part of a series on Richmond’s business roots, we share the story of South Harbour Fish & Gift Shop.
Steveston’s South Harbour Fish & Gift Shop opened in 1997 as a mom-and-pop shop.
Wayne and Deborah Chiu, a couple from Hong Kong, immigrated to Canada in 1987. Upon arrival, Wayne continued to work in the field of I.T. (information technology) while Deborah worked in retail before the couple opened their store.
The name “South Harbour” was inspired by the community of Steveston, where the couple bought the house they still live in today.
“There's a strong sense of belonging and my parents wanted to become a part of the community,” says their son Wilson Chiu, the shop’s current owner.
South Harbour Fish & Gift Shop offers a huge variety of fresh seafood including salmon, cod, halibut, oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops.
“Our frozen variety consists of black cod from Alaska, ahi tuna and mahi-mahi from Hawaii, lobster tails from Nova Scotia, and sea bass from Chile,” says Wilson.
To show their support for other local businesses, the store also carries locally-packaged smoked salmon gift boxes.
Having being in business for more than 25 years, consistency has been an integral part of the business’s success. This is reflected not only in the quality of its products, but also in customer service and overall store cleanliness.
“Two decades of consistency have resulted in establishing ourselves as the go-to seafood shop in Steveston,” says Wilson.
As an owner or manager, Wilson says one needs to understand every aspect of the business, from being knowledgeable about products to tackling finances and accounting. But, he adds, nothing is more important than being a good leader who sets an example for employees.
Since the pandemic began, South Harbour’s sales number has not plummeted, but instead has steadily grown. Wilson attributes this to more people choosing to cook at home.
However, the instability of suppliers and the supply chain forced the store to stock up more inventory due to the uncertainty of future shipments.
Wilson says the philosophy of providing customers with the best possible service is a practice he firmly stands behind.
“We will always adapt to new ideas but I'm also confident we have always been on the right path,” says Wilson.
Having spent a tremendous amount of time in and out of the store, Wilson has many memorable moments to share.
“I was an immature teenager, got into an argument at the store with my mom, and slammed the door while customers were inside,” says Wilson. “That must have embarrassed her a lot, and I regret that (to this day).”
As for his proudest moments, Wilson recently purchased the store from Deborah on Mother’s Day, so she can retire knowing that the store is in capable hands. Wilson’s cousin Jonathan Lee is the store’s current manager and the person responsible for its day-to-day operations.
South Harbour Fish & Gift Shop did not become the established business that it is today without keeping its employees and customers satisfied.
“Treat employees and customers with respect and share knowledge with them,” says Wilson. “The more you share with them and the more you're open with them, the more they will reciprocate.”
Making things right when mistakes happen is Wilson’s way of retaining returning customers.
“(More) often than not, it's not what happened that matters, it's how people feel,” he says.
For future entrepreneurs looking to own their own businesses, Wilson emphasizes the importance of helping people and building a strong foundation.
“When starting out, money will be scarce. But the more you focus on it, the less you'll earn,” he says.