Ron Cox has connected with folks from far and wide during his four decades of doing business in downtown New Westminster.
Cox, the owner of Around the World Maps and Flags on Columbia Street, is retiring and closing shop at 667 Columbia St. on Dec. 31.
“I would say I was lucky because I was able to carry on a business for so long,” he said. “A lot of people come in and they move out. The landlords were always good to me.”
Born on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent in 1936, Cox moved to England in 1960 in search of a better life. It was there that he trained as a printer – something that would serve him well after moving to Canada in 1972
After working for a printing company, Cox started a business out of his basement and then opened BK Printers and Stationary on Sixth Street in 1976. He’s done business in downtown New West ever since, adapting his business’s offerings at different times to stay relevant and to adapt to changing technology, incorporating retail components into the business, such as stationary, maps and flags.
“I started branching off into the maps,” he said. “I thought I saw a need for that kind of thing. I was willing to try it out.”
Through the decades, Cox moved to a few different locations in downtown New West and ultimately renamed his business Around the World Maps and Flags to reflect the changing nature of his work. Cox credits his kids for allowing him to remain in business for as long as he has – by supporting him and putting up with long hours.
“It was sometimes almost around the clock,” said Cox, 82. “That’s been a very bad habit of mine.”
When Cox moved from Sixth Street to his first location on Columbia Street in 1980, the street that was once known as the Golden Mile, was losing a bit of its luster.
“A lot of businesses were moving out. There was a large amount of vacancies,” he recalled. “No one was moving in except this madman Ron Cox.”
In the 1990s, drug dealing and nuisance activities were big concerns for downtown merchants. It was during that era that two memorable incidents occurred at Cox’s business – one that sent him to the hospital for stitches and left him with a permanent scar on his arm.
Cox was working in the rear of the business, then located at 708 Columbia St., when two men entered the premises.
“These two guys dashed in with a knife. They put it to my chest,” he said. “I decided to do a dash for it. In the process of that, I got cut. One had a hammer and the other had a knife. Very, very scary. I decided to run for it. They took money from the till. They ran out. They jumped in the car and took off.”
On another occasion, Cox was called to work after would-be thieves broke into the building through the roof and tried to steal a large, heavy safe by taking it down the stairs to leave through a basement exit. The would-be thieves left empty-handed because couldn’t get the safe out of the building – or open it before fleeing the scene.
“They were bringing it down the wooden stairs. It was so heavy it smashed the old stairs down,” he smiled. “They couldn’t get it out.”
Developing a camaraderie with customers has been critical to Cox’s business’s longevity.
“Service. By serving them well – that’s how you make it. In any kind of business that is how you make it,” he said. “I am doing what I love best. I am satisfying my customers. That is what caused my business to grow and survive. I had very dedicated customers, especially with the printing. I had people who kept me alive.”
Through the years Cox has been very involved in the Caribbean steel band community in Metro Vancouver. Whether he was in the shop or at a gig playing drums, saxophone or singing with his bands, Cox has a natural way of connecting with people.
“He connected with all the people as long as they were willing to connect,” said son Ray. “That is not how business is done these days. It’s just a transaction now, whereas before it was that connection for the person.”
Having recently undergone 28 radiation treatments for cancer – and working throughout his treatment – Cox is now preparing to transition into the next phase of his life – retirement. While he’ll miss the work, the New West resident is looking forward to spending more time with his three kids and 10 grandchildren.