Two more small business in downtown Yellowknife are closing their doors.
The Kilt and Castle Pub will conclude its run at the end of November while Bijou Boutique is going out of business as of the end of the year.
Jill Groenewegen, the owner of the boutique, said a series of challenges has convinced her to shut down the enterprise after close to a decade.
The last couple of years have been particularly difficult, she said, citing high rent, a decrease in consumer spending and an overall sluggish economy.
Adding to these challenges, Groenewegen, who became a mother last year, found it difficult to balance her business and family life. She also struggled to find full-time staff for her shop, which meant she had to juggle her business responsibilities with caring for her baby. The lack of available child care in Yellowknife further complicated the situation.
Despite considering various strategies to save her shop, including cutting back store hours, Groenewegen ultimately decided to close the business. The decision was influenced not only by the economic challenges but by her desire to spend more time with her family.
She believes the difficulties she experienced are shared by many other businesses in the current economic climate. It also underscores the need for improved child care services in Yellowknife, a problem that extends beyond the business community, she added.
The Kilt and Castle Pub made it through eight years, but owner Bob Stewart has decided to depart for Nova Scotia.
“It’s just not making enough anymore to be worth being in Yellowknife, so there’s other opportunities other places in the country,” said Stewart, who was born and raised in Yellowknife.
He said everything was going pretty well for the business prior to the pandemic. But the multiple shutdowns due to Covid-19 took a serious toll and the wildfire evacuation this summer proved to be the final straw.
“Ever since the Covid lockdowns, the economy has been slow here, but then they sent everybody on the (wildfire) evacuation and everybody spent all their money down south,” said Stewart. “Everybody’s pretty broke — interest rates have gone up on all their houses, so now everybody’s pretty house poor.”
He noted that the building’s second floor used to open for lease to other businesses, but demand for that has also vanished.
‘Too little, too late’
City Coun. Rob Warburton, who’s a former president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, noted that while many businesses received support via federal and territorial grants during the pandemic, most have not yet fully recovered from the financial impact of the crisis. The perception that businesses are operating as usual despite significant revenue loss is misleading, according to Warburton.
“A lot of them were still struggling, trying to recover from the pandemic,” he said, “and now they have to face the (evacuation) that just happened.”
Although shorter, he contends that the latter emergency dealt a serious blow to local ventures.
“Unlike during the pandemic, these businesses had no means to mitigate or manage the situation and were left with zero revenue. Despite some government support, it was often too little, too late, and many businesses simply ran out of resources,” he said.
Warburton, who also rents apartment buildings and office space, shared his own experience navigating the crisis, making decisions such as whether to charge customers full rent, and even forgiving leases, when possible.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the impacts that you’re seeing are not things that city can influence a whole bunch, in my opinion,” he said.
However, he added that where the municipality can really help is in areas such as land and zoning.
“The city is pushing hard to expedite processes and bring more land to market to stimulate housing development. This initiative is seen as an economic driver, addressing the housing shortage that has been a significant barrier to economic growth in the city,” said Warburton.