When Steven Hui was a kid growing up in Surrey in the 1960s, his parents ran a family nursery business. One of their customers was a woman named Mrs. Moody, who would come by on holidays and bring candy for the kids.This happened for several years and Hui’s parents would tell her she didn’t need to come bearing candy.
I don’t buy them, Mrs. Moody replied, my son owns a drug store in Revelstoke.
“Of course I didn’t think of being a pharmacist at that point but roll it forward 20 odd years, I graduated, was working in Prince Rupert and got a phone call from Mr. Moody – Murt Moody,” said Hui. “He said that he had a vacancy – the pharmacist had left his business. It was 1984 and I moved to Revelstoke.”
Three years later in October 1987, Hui wound up taking over the business from the Moodys – Murt and his wife Tak – and now, 25 years later, he is celebrating with a series of sales at his store, Pharmasave.
Hui’s career in Revelstoke is a definite success story. He has expanded what was once a small drug store three-fold and made a significant impact in town both as a businessman and as an active member of numerous community organizations. He’s been named the Chamber of Commerce’s Businessperson of the Year several times and was once the Lions Club’s Citizen of the Year.
When Hui moved to Revelstoke, it was to work as the pharmacist at Donaldson’s Drugs on Mackenzie Avenue. Buying the business was not in his mind at the time. In fact, he said he thought of the move from Prince Rupert as a way of getting closer to the Vancouver area and eventually moving back to the Lower Mainland. “I thought maybe I’d get back home but I think I found my home,” he told me.
In 1987, when the Moodys retired, Hui purchased the business from them. He had no business experience himself, but he had his parents, grandfather and the Moodys to lean on for advice and he had a good idea of the commitment involved. “One of the things that worked to my use was my naivety,” he said. “When you don’t know what to expect you think, ‘Well, sure I’ll buy a business.’”
A year later he bought in as part of the Pharmasave group – then a co-operative buying group where all the individual store owners shared ownership of the company and benefited from the wholesale buying power and business expertise of the corporation. He said he wanted a recognizable name for his franchise that would still allow him some control and autonomy over the store.
“They brought a lot of expertise to the table and lots of programs you could use to help build your business,” he said.
Over the years Pharmasave kept expanding but the space – located where Talisman Fibre & Trading and Revelstoke Florist are today – restricted growth. When a new product was added, an existing one had to be taken out of stock, and the dispensary area was overcrowded.
As a result, the store moved to its current location on Victoria Road in 2002, tripling its floor space, doubling its staff and vastly expanding the product line. The cosmetic department expanded, as did the baby department. There was more space for stationary and the dispensary grew too. More recently, the stationary department was moved into its own store, Your Office & Art Centre on First Street, and the photo lab was expanded.
There has also been changes in what the store carries. Notably, the demographics have changed, with some families moving away and being replaced by younger adults. Winter is now much busier. The influx of skiers, mountain bikers and other outdoor adventure aficionados has meant carrying a lot more muscle rubs, anti-inflammatories and braces.
Pharmasave also sells more snack food – and not just junk food, but healthy snacks, energy bars and rehydration fluids. “They’re sophisticated. they’re looking for the more expensive, the good stuff,” Hui said.
Hui is known in town not only for his business acumen, but also for his volunteerism and dedication to community life. The list of groups he has worked with is lengthy: the Kinsmen, Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Community Foundation, District Health Foundation, the Association for Community Living, and several City of Revelstoke committees. He has served as head of most of those groups at some point, including four years as President of the chamber.
His community work started early after arriving here. Encouraged by the Moodys, he joined the Kinsmen. “It really opened my eyes to what volunteerism meant in a small community,” he said. “When something had to be done, everybody came forward and pitched in. It was really a lot of fun.
Later, he would join groups that would pique his interest, such as working with the mentally challenged as president of the Revelstoke Association for Community Living.
“All very gratifying, I enjoyed immensely all of them,” he said.
What’s next for Hui? At 52, he said he’s too young to retire. He has one daughter in university and another a year away. “I think I have to keep working a little bit to keep them in school.”
One of his goals for the future is to mentor youth in town who are interested in philanthropy and get them active and involved. He also wants to continue to build up the Community Foundation to make Revelstoke more resilient going forward. “If you can build within the community sustainability and have strength in the community then you don’t have to rely on outside,” he said.
He also wants to promote entrepreneurship and help people there. “I sometimes see people who struggle to reach their potential. Sometimes you have to chat with them, give them an opportunity, encourage them,” he said. “Sometimes you have to take them by the hand and guide them but I think the town really relies on youth. I’m sort of on the downhill side of my career and I’m hoping young people, business people, other leaders come forward and carry on in the future.”
I asked Hui if he’d ever considered running for council. During the 2011 municipal elections his name came up amongst my friends so I had to put the question to him. He replied: “There may be a day but I’m still enjoying the business. I like to spend a little bit of free time at home with my family and whatever time left I have I do a little volunteering as well. I think I’d have to give up something fairly big to jump into that position. It’s a commitment and if I’m going to do it, I’m going to have to give it my all or its not the way I want to do it. I don’t want to say not ever, but not in the short term.”
Afterwards he gave thanks to the community of Revelstoke and all the people he worked with.
“It’s been great personally, for my business and for my family,” he said. “I don’t think I could raise a family the way I do in Revelstoke anywhere else.
“It’s a great, great place.”