The Lady with Grit
In the Okanagan Valley, she is well known as the “Lady Entrepreneur with the big heart”, being head mover in many fundraising activities for Filipinos in need. When several typhoons devastated the Philippines in the past few years, she spearheaded campaigns to gather as much funds and goods as possible to help not only her native townmates of Catarman, Samar, but other regions as well. Being well respected in the community, when Typhoon Haiyan wrecked Samar and Leyte, thru her efforts, about 400 boxes of goods where shipped to feed and aid the victims.
Elle Harris, who owns and operates Pear of the Orient Grocery Store, the biggest Filipino store in Kelowna area, till she moved it to Vernon in February of this year, is an affable young grandmother to a 13 year old. She also owns and operates Stephanie Jewels, a jewelry store named after her granddaughter, with the help of her unassuming husband, Clay.
Elle, like most of Filipino immigrants, came to Canada to get a better life. She lived in Vancouver in the early years and operated Presyong Palengke along Fraser Street in the 90’s. But she found out that it was impossible to be a single mother taking care of a young son while manning her store. She loves her son too much that she wanted to give him the proper guidance he needed till he reach maturity. They went home to the Philippines and stayed for a few years.
However, being determined to make something of herself and make use of her Business Degree from Araneta Univesity, she flew to Australia and worked as Marketing Manager of a big company. From there she honed her skills in marketing for several years. She learned the ropes of the trade so well that she dreamt of going back to Canada and start anew with her son now married with a young daughter.
In Vancouver, after long years of absence, starting again was not a bed of roses for Elle. The people she interacted with before either moved forward, moved out of Vancouver, or got busy with their own lives. So she decided to live in Calgary instead where she opened a Filipino store much like the Presyong Palengke which she operated before.
In one of her days off, she visited Kelowna. She fell in love with the place, the lakes, the rolling hills, the mountains, the orchards, fresh fruits, and the friendly Filipinos who boasted of the peace and quiet and the clean environment of the town. They encouraged her to put up a Filipino store there as Filipino population is growing at a very fast rate and the need for Filipino products will grow with it too. After some soul searching, and weighing the pros and cons, the biggest factor which made her decide to move to Kelowna and open a Filipino store was the idea of bringing in Filipino products to Canada to help Philippine exports grow. Its economic spin off will help the Filipinos to a degree.
That was a decision she never regretted. After a few months, she met Clay, a younger look alike of her favorite actor, Sean Connery, and which she fondly described to all her friends and relatives as the Canadian with the heart of gold. They fell in love and they got married.
They bought a house in Vernon which is 45 minutes away from her Kelowna store. Every day travel time back and forth took a toll on their health. So they decided to buy their own place in downtown Vernon and move Kelowna Pearl of the Orient Grocery Store there.
Right now, Pearl of the Orient is the hub of the growing numbers of Filipino immigrants in Vernon and surrounding area. Sure a jewel of a Filipina’s love of her own country, culture, and products. Thanks to Elle who in spite of her entrepreneurial success remains humble and modest.
In her own words – “I want to prove to myself that I can be successful because I have the determination and the lifelong mission to be of help to my countrymen in any way I can. I just hope all the Filipinos in Canada will think of it that way.”
Her advice to new immigrants – “Do not lose hope, be patient, and be focused. If at first you did not succeed, keep on trying. There is no substitute for persistence.”