Blaine businesswoman celebrates milestones

Published on Wed, Sep 28, 2011 by Kitty Bond

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Busy Bee Upholstery is owned by Gladys Croft, who recently celebrated her 50th year in business as well as her 80th birthday. Photo by Kitty Bond.

During the recent recession, most of the stories we hear are of businesses closing. However, there is at least one Blaine resident who has been in business continuously for the past 50 years.

As owner of Busy Bee Upholstery, Gladys Croft has been restoring everything from dining room chairs to boat interiors since 1961.

Croft began her career not as an upholsterer, but as a hairdresser, in White Rock, B.C. Wasting no time, she obtained her hairdressing license three months after she graduated from high school. At the age of 20, she already owned and operated her own beauty shop in British Columbia. Soon after, she met and fell in love with an American named Dean Croft, who would later become her life-long husband. Croft relocated to Blaine and started managing what is now Bayside Beauty Shop.

The catalyst for career change came with the adoption of their beloved daughter, Tammy. To stay home and raise Tammy, she began a small shop in her house. Croft was a talented seamstress – she had been sewing since middle school, as she had a difficult time finding store-bought clothes for her 5-foot-9-inch frame. She had no difficulties opening and cultivating her business, brushing off questions about the difficulties of owning a business as a woman in the 1960s. “There has always been demand, and people pay for quality work,” she explained. 

She views upholstery not just as a means to a living, but as a lost art. Her niche market success stems from her perspective of the piece she is reworking. Through the eyes of Croft, a homely fifty-year old chair set with outdated material and chipped wood can be transformed into a polished, expensive-looking dining room set. A quick glance around her charming shop confirms this: Old, worn chairs that look as though they have seen a generation or two of family use wait for restoration, while beautiful refurbished pieces sit ready for pick up.   

Many stores have closed or changed hands in the time that Croft has lived in Blaine. Unfortunately, it has become much more difficult over time to run a small business, especially when competing with larger corporate companies. She is a strong advocate for private business owners, as they strengthen the community and allow individuals to use their skills and personal abilities.

Large chain stores are able to undersell and push local, family owned businesses out of the market. Gladys has encountered this problem in her work, and discusses the need for government to improve treatment of small-town enterprises. 

Never one to complain, she leaves us with this insight:  “It doesn’t matter if the job is difficult, never let anything get you down. Many people live in fear, and it’s for nothing.” And her mantra rings true: Many people assume that an 80-year-old woman would not be able to compete and run a successful business. But as Croft says, “I still have a lot of skills to offer. I’m not tired, and I’m not retiring.”