Small Business

Finding the perfect button: how a small Vancouver shop stays in business

The first thing customers notice are the millions of buttons lining the shelves and drawers of the small, specialized shop in Vancouver — buttons in all shapes, colours and sizes.  

There’s a fit for everyone, according to Button Button shop owner Angela Ho. 

“We get to be part of people’s lives,” she said. 

In the store on a quiet stretch of Homer Street near West Cordova Street, there are buttons made out of everything from mother of pearl, Czech glass, Japanese pottery, crystal, plastic to fossils.

Almost everyone uses buttons because of how functional they are, said Ho, but they can also express a lot about an individual’s personal taste.

“I love buttons because they encompass the range from functionality to art,” Ho said.

Angela Ho took over Button Button in downtown Vancouver after the original owner, Colleen Miller retired in 2016. (Michael Audet)

The perfect button

Some customers come in looking to replace a single button that popped off an outfit while others, like those working in costume design for film or theatre, are on the hunt for something much more special. 

Ho does a lot of problem-solving to help people find the best button for their projects.

This Ammonite button is one of Angela Ho’s current favourites at her shop, Button Button. It’s an example of a button that is not only functional but also a piece of wearable art. (Jennifer Chen)

“There was a young man who came in. He had this beautiful tweed coat on, and just the very standard four-hole button that he did not care for at all,” she said.  

She found him a new set of buttons: black metal with a textured surface like raindrops.

Story of survival

Ho took over the store in 2016, when the original owner Colleen Miller retired. 

Miller loved travelling, Ho explained, and had noticed the button shops in many of the cities she visited. When she returned to Vancouver, she decided to start her own and launched it in 1995.  

Ho said she thinks Button Button is lucky to be the only shop in town specializing in the fashionable fastener. 

“I don’t know if it would be as easy if there was a second one,” she said. 

Angela Ho says the button shop becomes part of people’s lives, recalling how some customers used to come in as children and play with the buckets of buttons. (Jennifer Chen)

Dressew, a giant fabric store, is just around the corner but that hasn’t been an issue for Ho. 

“We actually have a very good relationship with Dressew and we will often send customers back and forth,” she said.

“We have quite different inventory.”

As for the big box stores, Ho said she isn’t concerned about the competition. 

“I just have more buttons than they do,” she said. 

Online shopping also hasn’t had much of an impact on her business, she said, because it can be challenging to  gauge the quality of a button online.

It really makes a difference to be able to put the buttons right on the garment in order to find the right one, she said.

“No matter what your button need, we can probably help you with it,” Ho said. 

The first thing customers notice are the millions of buttons lining the shelves and drawers of the small, specialized Vancouver shop in Vancouver – buttons in all shapes, colours and sizes. 7:26

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

Source

neallesh@yahoo.co.uk

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