News

Lingerie store owner a true survivor

AFter 20 years outfitting New Westminster women in bras and lingerie, Linda Ferris is closing her shop in Uptown and retiring. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
AFter 20 years outfitting New Westminster women in bras and lingerie, Linda Ferris is closing her shop in Uptown and retiring.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Linda Ferris lets out an emotional rush of air as she leans on the countertop in her little lingerie shop on Sixth Street.

She has just finished a vivid account of a violent attack nearly nine years ago right out of a Law and Order crime drama.

Despite the incident in which she was stabbed and choked while at work, Ferris continued on with her store, Quay Celebrity Lingerie and Accessories.

But now she’s holding a closing out sale because it’s time, after nearly two decades in the bra business, for the 62-year-old to retire.

Ferris grew up in North Vancouver and her first job out of high school in 1971 was at Eaton’s downtown in the chain’s regional office. She worked 19 years in the iconic Canadian department store, then was abruptly laid off.

It made her angry. She made a defiant decision that changed her life, saying to herself, “I am not going to work for anybody else again.”

So she started hunting for a business to start. She spent about a year searching, then one day she found herself at Westminster Quay Public Market, and asked if there was space available.

They suggested a women’s wear store, possibly lingerie, for a small space on the second floor at the top of the escalators. She had no experience in that product, but in addition to her work at Eaton’s her family had been in the grocery business, and she’d learned a thing or two about retail from her father.

He’d taught her to ensure expenses don’t exceed revenue, so Ferris started small. She liked the location and the low rent so she gave it a shot.

She’d ask customers lots of questions.

“I was learning how to fit and to cater to their needs,” says Ferris. “I put the focus on personal service. The big department stores are trying to do away with that because it’s costly for them.”

Even the name was customer oriented.

“You wanted to feel like you are a celebrity,” says Ferris.

After about a year she felt she could make it. But a few years later, Ferris could see the writing on the Quay wall.

“I could feel the traffic was going down and there was a lot of publicity about negative complaints about the parking,” she says. “If they were not coming then it was a sign it was time to move on for the survival of the business.”

She bailed before the market was shut down, a good decision. “It would have been too late.”

Uptown New Westminster made sense for a couple of reasons.

“Just follow the bank. Go where people bank and then you have to have traffic, and that was Uptown,” Ferris says.

She also looked to where her customer base lived, and since she catered to middle-aged to elderly women, Uptown was a natural.

“They all have problem with fitting … Eighty-five per cent of the women are wearing the wrong sizes,” she says. “If they are within walking distance it is much easier for people not to have to go to Metrotown to buy a pair of panties.”

It’s a service that gave her a good living.

Her longevity is amazing, but not just because of the business itself.

A life-changing experience

On Feb. 24, 2004, a young couple came into her store. She and the man were in the back of the store looking at merchandise, and the next thing she knew he’d wrapped his gloved hand around her head dragging her to the back of the store where they bound her feet and hands. The woman pulled out a knife and ordered, “Keep quiet! Don’t scream or yell or I will kill you.”

“Where’s your purse?” they demanded.

Her purse contained the keys to her store and car. They used them to lock the front door and then flipped the sign so it read ‘Closed.’

“I have two children at home waiting for me,” Ferris pleaded as she held the woman’s hand. “Please don’t hurt me. You can take what you want.”

“She seemed to not have any emotions at all,” Ferris recalls.

The man slipped a plastic bag over her head and started suffocating her. They also choked her with an electrical cord and kicked her as she went in and out of consciousness.

Eventually the woman, says Ferris, stabbed her on the left side of her neck—doctors later told her it was within about a quarter inch of her jugular vein—and then her abdomen.

They left through the back door with the cash they found, her credit cards and the PIN number for her debit card escaping in Ferris’s Ford Focus.

After calling 911, Ferris was taken to Royal Columbian Hospital where she was treated for five days.

For about two years after the incident, every time she saw someone that looked like her attackers she would freeze and be seized by a feeling of terror. Thankfully, Ferris was blessed to have two customers who came and helped her through the next three years. They would alternate days at the store, giving her support.

“They helped me to get me on my two feet. Without their support I would have had to close the shop and walk away. I owe them everything.”

Police didn’t make any arrests in the case until 2008 when April Dawn Rogers was arrested following an undercover operation by New Westminster police’s major crime unit. She was convicted on three charges in 2010 receiving a 5 1/2 year prison sentence. The male attacker was in a U.S. jail at the time.

Finding her way back

After the horrific incident, Ferris was blessed to have two customers who came and helped her through the next three years. They would alternate days at the store giving her support.

“They helped me to get me on my two feet. Without their support I would have had to close the shop and walk away,” Ferris says. “I owe them everything.”

One of them, Margaret, passed away in August 2007, which was another blow to her, while the other, Olive Brass, is now 90 years old.

Later in 2007, she lost her partner Peter Cormier to complications from pneumonia, a process that took just 29 days. He was just 61 at the time.

“It it me like a ton of bricks,” says Ferris of her double loss that year.

Ferris has a new man in her life, and wants to travel with him. The first stop will likely be a visit with her sister, who runs a sushi restaurant/olive oil store in southern France.

“It’s time to retire,” says Ferris. “It’s so satisfying. You sort of realize you have proven to yourself you can make it on your own.”

It’s hard to deny she’s earned trading a life of lingerie for one of leisure.

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