Simon Quan and Company Ltd

Simon Quan and his wife, Bo Yee Quan, opened Simon Quan Store at 24 Queen Street in June 1965. It began as a neighborhood grocery and dry goods store, selling from rice, flour, and chicken, to expanding its services and selling kerosene stoves. The owners knew that value and service were important, so they sold everything at the lowest prices with Simon making personal deliveries on his carrier bike.

Simon Quan & Co. Ltd has grown and evolved through the years into a major retailer and wholesaler of general merchandise, serving not only the neighborhood, but customers in all seven districts of Belize. It boasts an extensive line of products, including school supplies, textiles, toys, hardware, houseware, curtains, kitchenware, floor covering, and much more. It strives to continuously fulfill its commitment of “You Name it, We’ve Got It”.

Even with its growth and expansion, Simon Quan & Co. Ltd has stayed close to its roots. It is still a family business located on 16-28 Queen Street with the family personally involved in its daily operations. Simon Quan & Co Ltd continues to carry on the legacy of its founders to serve its customers by providing goods efficiently and conveniently at the lowest prices.


Simon Quan – MBE, JP Patriarch and Founder

Simon Quan was born in 1930 in the Mexican town of Los Mochis, Sinaloa, the
third child of immigrants who had recently moved there from Gaoguong, China. Even as an infant it became apparent that life would not be easy for him. He was only two months old when the governor of that Mexican province issued a decree for the deportation of all Chinese immigrants. Because of the constraints of caring for three young children, his parents were unable to escape to another province and were therefore caught and put on a ship back to China. It seems now a strange twist of fate, this Mexican-born child who spent his formative years in his Chinese homeland would later return as an adult to make his life in a country just south of the Mexican border. After their return to China, his father made a modest living and provided a stable life; however, because of the lack of opportunities in rural China for those who were not big landowners, his father, like most Chinese men at the time, looked overseas in hopes of providing a better life for his family. When Simon was five years old his father returned to Mexico, this time leaving his wife and four children in China. His family never saw him again as shortly afterwards news arrived that he had died from a serious illness.

His mother, now a widow with four children, worked hard to raise her family.


Even as a child, Simon appreciated his mother’s efforts and felt her grief when she saw her friends’ husbands return from overseas alive and prosperous. This made him resolve to provide well for her when he grew up. At the age of six, he was already peddling cigarettes and home-made candy after school to supplement the family’s income. He attended school up to third grade. His formal education abruptly ended with the World War II invasion and occupation of China. Despite his limited formal education, he took every opportunity to educate himself by reading, job training, and taking classes. He is literate in Chinese and English, conversant in several Chinese dialects, adept at mental calculations, and swift on the abacus. His childhood between the ages of seven and ten were spent on the run from
Japanese occupation. His family fled from Gauguong to Guangzhou and later to Hong Kong. In the end, there was nowhere else to run; so when the Japanese briefly occupied Hong Kong, he witnessed first-hand the chaos and devastation of a city under siege.

By the time life returned to normal, Simon was eleven, and according to the norm at the time, was ready to make his own living. He got a job as a servant boy to a rice merchant. The job paid little if at all, but he did get meals, a place to sleep, and a day off once a month to visit his mother. What others would view as hardship and drudgery, he viewed as an opportunity to learn and earn. His boss liked this young boy’s honesty, enthusiasm for learning, and eagerness to work. Simon in turn, was grateful for the opportunity to work. He went through the ranks as a delivery boy, carrying 100 pound sacks of rice on his back, then as a clerk, and later as a cashier at the rice and provisions store.

During all those years, he fulfilled his responsibility to his mother by giving her his entire earnings. By then, his older brother had died as the result of a work-related accident, leaving behind an infant son. With the death of his brother, Simon was now the only surviving son, and according to Chinese tradition, sons were responsible for the welfare of the parents in their old age. At the age of twenty-eight, Simon was still single, supporting his mother and nephew. New Territories, Hong Kong at the time, was a ghetto consisting of a mix of people from various parts of China who sought refuge first from the Japanese invasion and later from the Communist insurgence in mainland China. Simon mastered the dialects of his customers and with his friendly and out-going personality, made them feel that he was like family. One such customer was his future mother-in-law, who saw in him a prospective match for her daughter who was to arrive shortly from Chiuchow, China. After about two dates Simon and his wife Bo Yee were married. At the time of his marriage, he had no personal savings and had to borrow from his employer to finance a modest wedding.

A few months after his marriage, he received a letter from his cousin Augusto Quan in Belize asking if he was interested in coming to Belize. The agreement was that Augusto would pay for his passage and arrange the necessary documentation. In return, Simon would work for five years, at a monthly salary of eighty dollars, as a live-in helper at Augusto’s store. Simon jumped at the opportunity of going overseas. So in 1959, at the age of twenty-nine, he left his pregnant wife living with his mother in Hong Kong, and journeyed to Belize alone.

In 1959, when Simon arrived, Belize was a small town; not at all like a place to make a fortune as he had expected. To top this disappointment further, Hurricane
Hattie struck and devastated Belize a couple months later. Simon rose to the challenges with his characteristic optimism and resilience. He worked hard and lived frugally to fulfill his five years of service, pay off his loan, and continue supporting his mother, nephew, wife, and daughter.

After his five years of service was completed, Simon was determined to remain in Belize and set up his own business. First, he sent for his wife and daughter to join him. Shortly after their arrival, he found a suitable location at #24 Queen Street. With $200 in savings he took over the furniture and contents of the existing store, and Augusto gave him $1000 credit on some slow-moving merchandise. Though a few relatives and friends were willing to extend credit to his fledgling business, he had no credit standing with the major wholesalers, so most purchases had to be paid for in cash. The first year was a struggle to make ends meet. The family lived in one room at the back of the store, and his wife had to sell personal effects to finance purchases. They had to go through great lengths to make a few cents and had to pinch pennies on basic necessities such as food. To compound these problems, Augusto was threatening legal action to recover the $1000 debt. Not one to despair for long and with his usual resourcefulness, Simon went to Augusto’s close friend to help him plead his case, and the matter was resolved amicably. In that eventful and tumultuous year, 1965, he celebrated the birth of his son Peter.

By the following year all his debts were paid and his credit standing was excellent. Even with all the local businesses offering him credit, Simon realized that he must be an importer if he wanted to expand and be competitive. In order to do so, he would need a line of credit from the bank. So he applied to the Royal Bank of Canada, now the Belize Bank, for a loan. Mr. Anderson, the bank manager, went to inspect the business. Mr. Anderson was either impressed by the sight of Peter sitting in a milk box which served as a playpen or by the evident sacrifice and tenacity of the young couple, because he approved the loan. Simon has maintained his loyalty to this financial institution to this day.

The family and business expanded with each additional year. By 1970 he was the proud father of six children and owner of a thriving business. The following decade was to bring three more children and more prosperity. In the early 1970’s the building housing his business and dwelling was offered for sale and Simon jumped at the opportunity of having the security and satisfaction of owning property. In subsequent years other adjacent properties went on the market and he did not miss these opportunities. He saw land ownership as a valuable resource for business expansion. With all the land and buildings he bought on Queen Street, he decided to put them to good use. He constructed a new building and renovated the others as a hotel for foreign and local travelers. The Luxury Hotel was operational until 1991 when it was closed to make way for the expansion of the store.

Despite the time and energy required to run a growing business, Simon made sure he developed his other important resource, his children. He encouraged them to do well in school, hiring tutors, providing a stable home and study environment, and enforcing strict after-school routines. Everyone was required to work in the store in their spare time. This way, in his opinion, the children can contribute, gain experience, learn the values of hard work, and have less time to indulge in frivolous activities that waste money. The 1980’s was a time of transition for Simon and his business, as his children, one by one went off to college. The latter part of the 1980’s saw a period of rejuvenation as his children returned to inject new energy and ideas to grow and expand the business into the area of wholesale distribution. As he realized that his children, now the new business managers, were handling the resources prudently and responsibly, he gradually handed the authority to them. Simon Quan and Company continues to thrive as a family- owned business, since Simon Quan’s legacy to his children is not only the business establishment, but also the values of hard work, dedication and trustworthiness which he had instilled in them.

Simon Quan’s achievements are evident in the business that bears his name. What is not as obvious are the challenges he had to overcome; but this journey to success has shaped his character and makes his accomplishments more admirable. He has learned the importance of family, pride in honest work, dedication to goals, and the benefits of saving. His satisfaction with his accomplishments allows him to admire without envy those who have achieved more than he has, and his experience of hardships gives him empathy for those less fortunate. The thrifty lifestyle he endured in his youth has become a habit, yet he is generous to causes close to his heart such as providing for the elderly, the promotion of education, and the preservation of culture. In this era of get- rich-quick schemes and quick fixes, he is an example that fulfilling achievements can come to those who are patient and prepared. He also taught and believed that integrity, prudence, and perseverance are not only a good foundation for business, but are also useful traits in coping with the challenges in life.

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