Thong Tran and Thanh Luu knew they had to protect their family from Communists. So they packed up their three daughters and fled to Canada.
Betty Lee was just five-years-old when her parents relocated the family from her native Vietnam to Montreal.
“When the Communists took over China, my mom’s family fled to Vietnam,” Lee says. “When the Communists moved into Vietnam my parents wanted none of that because they saw what the Communists had done (in China).”
Vietnam was a French colony at the time and so her family made the decision to settle in Quebec. Their time there was short lived as Lee’s parents had a hard time adjusting to the long winters.
“It was too cold for them,” Lee says. A friend of her father’s told him the warmest place in Canada was Duncan.
So the family packed up and moved once again. Lee’s father picked up work at local jewelry stores. Though Tran had worked as a school teacher in Vietnam, his relatives owned a jewelry store and he learned the basics.
Lee said he took the advice of a friend who told him that Campbell River was rich in resources and would be “a good place to open” his own store.
So Lee opened Thong’s in the row of old buildings along St. Ann’s Road where Seymour Pacific now stands.
“They had a small store and started out with a small inventory,” Lee says. “They did more repair and custom work and then grew the shop in to what it is now.”
Today, Thong’s is in the Home Hardware plaza and Lee, who graduated with an economics degree from UVic, bought in to the store which she now owns with her mother, who is a silent partner. One of Lee’s sisters also works at the store.
What makes Thong’s unique from most other jewelry stores is that most of the repair work and custom designs are done on site in the back of the store.
That allows customers to get their jewelry back in a timely fashion.
“It only takes a few days, we can even do same day if it’s not too busy,” Lee says. “There were a lot of jewellery stores up here at the time (Thong’s first opened) but they all sent (jewellery) away. He (dad Tran) was the only guy here that did it in-house and that’s very important. A lot of times people don’t want to leave their valuables to get sent to another location.”
Thong’s, though, has the technology to do most repairs right at the store. In fact, they recently purchased a new laser solder that can do delicate and intricate solders on difficult pieces.
“It will do stuff you can’t add heat to,” Lee says. “Jewellery like opals and emeralds is hard to repair because you have to remove the stones or the heat will damage it. With the laser solder you can solder very close to the stone without damaging it.”
Lee says they can also update jewellery that customers have had passed down to them through an inheritance as well as other custom work.
Lee uses a computer program to mock up the design and from there, the graphic is transferred to a machine that cuts out the design which is then fashioned into a wax mould. Gold is then poured into the mould to make the jewelry.
Lee says while she uses the machines, her dad, who visits the store from time-to-time, still does a lot of work by hand.
Lee says it takes longer, but it’s the way he was taught. It’s part of the lessons that have been passed down from his relatives and now to Lee and her sister from her father.
“It’s truly just a family-run business,” Lee says.
Thong’s Jewellery is open Monday-Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 40-1270 Dogwood Street.