A fundraiser has been started to help the owners of a downtown Maple Ridge business that was struck by vandals late last week.
Once Upon a Tea Leaf , located along 224 Street, was targeted in the early morning hours of Thursday, Sept. 21.
On video one man can be seen shattering the front windows of the store and then lobbing in some sort of smoke bomb which emitted an orange colour that coated the entire store, including all of the inventory.
The store is owned by Taryn Stephenson Thoews and her mother Cindy-Lea Stephenson, and has been a fixture in Maple Ridge for the past 16 years – 11 years at the current location.
“Our world came crashing down when a young man shattered our windows and hurled two Marine Pyrotechnic devices into our cherished store,” read the GoFundMe started by Marin Odberg.
“It was sheer luck that the entire block did not succumb to the flames, as these smoke signals were actually explosives that burned through our store’s floor,” said Odberg online.
Thoews, said she received a call from the alarm company at around 2:30 a.m. Thursday morning.
When security arrived on scene they discovered the front display window was smashed, in addition to another window by the front door. Security also saw smoke coming from inside the building and were worried the business was on fire.
Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue were called along with the Ridge Meadows RCMP.
Theirs was the only store hit by the vandals, making Thoews believe this was a targeted attack.
“It does not appear that there was any intent to steal anything. It was meant to scare us, meant to cause a lot of damage,” said the downtown business owner later that day.
“And they were successful, both of those things happened.”
This is the second time in a year the store has been targeted, in June, noted Odberg, a man again smashed the glass door of the store, and unleashed a can of bear spray inside.
“For this to happen again in a very similar fashion, that’s the part that, to me, feels scary. It feels targeted, it feels intentional,” she said, noting that her mother is both sad and scared, and was too emotional to talk to The News.
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Thoews doesn’t know when they will be able to open again, which is devastating, said Thoews, since they are entering their busy season, when the weather is starting to get colder and people are starting to buy cosy scarves and drink warm cups of tea.
“We work every day to try and be good members of this community. We give back, we support everybody and to have this happen, not once but twice, it’s hard to not take that personally,” she said.
Cpl. Julie Klaussner with the Ridge Meadows RCMP confirmed that on Thursday, Sept. 21 at around 3:30 a.m., police responded to a report of vandalism to a business in the 11900 block of 224 Street. When they arrived they discovered that the front window to the building had been smashed.
“This is currently an ongoing investigation and there are no further details available at this time,” said Klaussner.
Thoews did add that she doesn’t think downtown Maple Ridge is a bad place.
“Everyday out of the year except for, let’s say two or three, we feel safe and supported by this community. And the last thing that I want is for people to feel unsafe coming to our downtown core. It is just a one-off and it’s targeted and I hope that it doesn’t deter people from supporting ours and other businesses in this downtown core because it is not a scary place to be,” she said.
Odberg estimates the cost of the ruined inventory in the store between $100,000 to $200,000, in addition to irreplaceable items, like those of a local artisan who passed away in 2020. She added the insurance process can be lengthy and that the owners are now at risk of losing everything.
As of Wednesday morning, Sept. 27, 217 donations had been made, raising $19,115 of a $50,000 goal.
“Once Upon a Tea Leaf is more than just a business; it’s a labour of love, a testament to family values, and a symbol of community support. For years, we’ve given back to our Maple Ridge family, cherishing the relationships we’ve built, and now, we turn to you, our extended family, for help,” said Odberg online.
To donate go to gofundme.com/f/help-once-upon-a-tea-leaf-recover.