By Rita Button
Super Chance—the perfect name for James Bay Square’s household consignment store since chances that are, at first, invisible, abound! The chance to buy something for less than you would in a traditional retail store since the inventory has been enjoyed by someone before it got to this place is one possible beginning. On the other hand, the beginning might be a chance to sell something. For sure, it is a chance to become a part of a community that has morphed into a family, mostly because of Barbara’s big heart and her penchant for helping others
The store has been there since 1975; Barbara and David Burke have owned it since 2005. When I talked to Barbara a few weeks ago, she maintained that variety is one of the keys to the store’s success—various objects, varying prices—something for everyone. As I looked around, I noticed the blue bowls that my friend Barb would like; next, I saw the handknit sweater that would be perfect for my sister; the roasting pan would be great for someone just starting out; but I really liked the yellow sandals and matching purse which had never been used. The crystal ring-holder was also kind of cool. Paintings, suitcases, jewellery, rugs—all looked ready for a new home.
The people come, some of them, come with maybe just three little items to sell. Their husbands or wives have passed, and life has changed in unimaginable ways. Barbara greets them with her happy smile and begins to discover who they are and what they need. “They recycle their cash in this store,” she says. “They bring something to sell, and they find something to buy. In the process, they tell their story, and I remember it, so that I can make the connection the next time they come in—maybe tomorrow.”
On the Monday morning I visited, the store was abuzz with people. Barbara knows them all. “How are you feeling? Has the ear infection gone away?” she asks. The woman smiles, and begins to tell Barbara about the latest events in her life, and, yes, the ear is fine. A man talks about his son in Nanaimo; Barbara knows him as well, and asks about the baby, emphasizing that she’d like to see the baby the next time the family comes to Victoria. And so it goes. Everyone has a story to tell Barbara who is genuinely interested in the lives of the people who come into her store.
She tells me of a woman who brought her cookies for 12 years and whom Barbara visited in the hospital, her eyes welling up with tears as she remembers the end of that life.
And I get it. The store is about more than buying and selling. It’s about the people who bring their lives into the store along with the things they want to sell. They come by themselves, and Barbara and the staff know their lives have changed. The staff understand there’s a reason the customers no longer need what they’re selling, or that they have come into the store because they need the sound of people involved in what appears to be normal lives. Barbara, along with her staff, is there not only to sell what they need to leave behind but also to give strength and understanding to the person who is suddenly bereft, yet needs to go forward.
She does not hesitate to advise them to stay strong for the children or the grandchildren. Wise in the ways of the world and the heart, Barbara brings them back into the world by talking about the purposes and obligations they still have. And that’s the beginning of creating community and a sense of family.
This family doesn’t see the necessary paper work Barbara must do to track the inventory and to make sure the money ends up where it’s intended. Barbara is glad to do it, for it keeps the family afloat, and allows the conversation to continue, creating connections, kindness and understanding.
What a great place! What a super chance!