Corry Flader, president of the Umbrella Shop. (photo from Corry Flader)
“He went around in Toronto on a bicycle repairing people’s umbrellas,” Corry Flader told the Jewish Independent. “He would knock on people’s doors.”
Flader is sharing how her grandfather Isadore (Izzy) survived and supported his young family in the 1930s. Izzy had come to Canada in 1910 from Poland and, a couple of decades later, married Ida.
“He would sit on people’s stoop and repair their umbrellas, and then move to the next house. It just metamorphosed. He met a guy who was a train porter and he said, ‘You know, if you want to make umbrellas, there’s a city named Vancouver where it rains 365 days a year.’ So, he goes home and says, ‘Ida, pack it up, we’re going to Vancouver.’… They pack up the four kids and enough kosher salami to last the train ride, and there they went.”
Since its beginnings 82 years ago, the various iterations of the Umbrella Shop have accumulated plenty of customers. At times, Flader’s family has sold 20 different styles of umbrellas, each in a variety of colours, designs and prints. For decades, it was one of the most popular places in the city to get your hands on a quality umbrella. But now, the Umbrella Shop, a third-generation business, will close its doors at the end of December.
Flader vividly recalls her family setting up in Vancouver’s Jewish community and opening their first store. “My dad told me he remembers looking for a house, and he finally bought one slated for demolition,” she said. “So him and the two older boys, who I think were between 10 and 13, began saving the place. My dad Charlie would have been around 3.”
That first shop was Vancouver Umbrella on the corner of Pender and Howe, which lasted until 1972. “I was the delivery girl,” said Flader. “I used to go pick up patio umbrellas in my dad’s 1969 station wagon. Many of your readers may remember me coming by to pick up their patio umbrellas for a re-cover, and they would give me a cool lemonade on a hot summer day or something.”
In the 1960s, Izzy’s son-in-law, Peter Hochfelder, was brought into the business. In 1972, Izzy and his son Norman sold their shares; a few years later, Sam retired. From that time, the owners were Charlie and Hochfelder. That shop ran until 1982, on Hastings Street, and then Charlie sold his shares to Hochfelder.
Corry’s brother Glen and Glen’s wife, Nancy, started GF Umbrella Shop Ltd. Corry helped them at the beginning, after which she became a school teacher. GF Umbrella Shop was on Pender between Richards and Seymour for almost 20 years. In 2001, Glen became ill and Corry became a partner and joined him in the business. They opened the Umbrella Shop on Granville Island in 2003.
“I love umbrellas, they are in my soul,” said Corry Flader. “It was my first job and my last.”
Some people have mistaken Vancouver Umbrella, in Richmond, for the Umbrella Shop, because the two independent businesses share the same roots. Hochfelder, his wife Cheryl and daughter Shawna started up Vancouver Umbrella, and Shawna is the company’s current president. In an interview with the Georgia Straight, she assured customers that their shop is not closing down and that they will continue to make and sell umbrellas.
From humble beginnings, the Umbrella Shop became a Vancouver institution spanning three generations. Flader told the CBC that her decision to close was based on health reasons. Since she made the announcement, she has received countless appreciative letters and visits from journalists. It is an establishment that will be missed.
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.