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Small businesses the ‘heart and soul of the community’

Small businesses the “heart and soul of the community”: Yk Chamber of Commerce
Jo-Ann Cooper, owner of two Borealis Kennels stores — in the 50/50 Mini Mall and in Kam Lake — said a shortage of labour in other parts of Canada is affecting her supply chain now, more so that when Covid restrictions were in effect. Jill Westerman/NNSL photo

Owning a small business means putting in long hours and dedicating oneself to their work to ensure longevity and success.

Recognizing that effort by celebrating Small Business Week is a way to support and help the business community network and thrive, especially during the challenges many businesses have endured in the time of Covid.

Melissa Syer, executive director of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, said small businesses are the heart and soul of the community.

“I challenge any Yellowknifer to say why they love living in Yellowknife and not have it include one of the goods or services our small businesses provide,” Syer said.

“What is a weekend without stopping into Bush Order Provisions for my bagels, swinging by Barren Ground for my coffee, going to Northern Fancy Meats for my steaks, stopping into Borealis Pet Supplies for the glow-in-the-dark collar and then finishing off that thirsty errand-running work with a pint at the Brew Pub or brunch at the Black Knight?”

Few businesses in Yellowknife have experienced the longevity that the renowned Weaver and Devore Trading and Ltd. company in Old Town continues to have.

Weaver and Devore Trading and Ltd. in Old Town has been operating since 1936. Jill Westerman/NNSL photo
Weaver and Devore Trading and Ltd. in Old Town has been operating since 1936. Jill Westerman/NNSL photo

Operating since 1936, the location has the welcoming feel of stepping into an old-fashioned general store, where locals can stop in to pull up a chair and chat with the person behind the counter, who most likely is the business owner.

Dave Weaver is one of those people in the long-standing family business who has worked through the difficult times that Covid brought to many area businesses.

“Some businesses really struggled and other businesses fared OK. Luckily, we were deemed as an essential service because we supply groceries and winter wear, so we fared fairly well by supplying community needs and also to exploration camps, although we did lose some business through (a lack of) tourism,” Weaver said.

Home deliveries

Borealis Kennels owner Jo-Ann Cooper said while both locations of her store were not overly affected by the issues the pandemic caused, pet boarding became non-existent and pet grooming saw a decrease in business. “Home delivery service became more common during that time,” Cooper said.

Now that Covid restrictions have been lifted, Weaver said challenges still remain in that people are not yet back into their regular store-shopping routines. “And with the (tight) labour force – just trying to hire people is a challenge. It’s hard to find employees here and right across Canada,” he said.

Cooper said that while during Covid she saw no noticeable supply chain issues, now that pandemic restrictions have eased, there is more difficulty in obtaining products because seacans full of supplies are backed up in ports and other points of entry in Canada with few employees to unload them.

Syer said there’s no doubt a pervasive fatigue lingers throughout the small business community as a result of Covid.

“We are (maybe) on the other side of it, but it has compounded some issues that were around before, especially labour force issues, bureaucratic red tape and the cost of doing business in Yellowknife,” said Syer.

Throughout decades of store history, Weaver said they have weathered recessions, and during those times they ‘tightened their belts’ and adjusted their business accordingly to ensure financial stability for the company.

Weaver therefore remains optimistic about the future of businesses in Yellowknife post-Covid now that the border has reopened and the transportation of goods is resuming.

“We wish the best for everyone,” he said.

Cooper said she, too, is optimistic about the future as a local business owner.

“The pet business is never going to stop. People love their pets,” she said.

When asked if he had any advice for new business owners starting out in the current economic climate, Weaver said it helps to make sure they have products that appeal to the customer base.

“And just try to give a great service and do your best,” he advised.

To recognize and celebrate excellence in the business community, a Business Award Gala will be held Oct. 21 the Explorer Hotel.

—By Jill Westerman

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