Clothing shop Iceblink has defied pandemic challenges over the past year and successfully tapped into customer demand for comfortable clothing and shopping in a relaxing space.

The women’s apparel shop experienced its best sales in 2020 since it opened almost eight years ago.

Revenues were up by about 20 per cent compared to 2019 and sales were consistently strong.

After Judy McNicol opened her in-store cafe Fika about eight or nine months ago, it has brought in more customers and is the realization of a decades-long aspiration to operate a coffee shop.  Blair McBride/NNSL photo

“Weirdly, there was this one tunic … that just became this phenomenon. We still can’t keep it in stock,” said shop owner Judy McNicol.

It came to be known as the “Jillian tunic” after Canadian celebrity Jillian Harris.

“I started ordering sweatpants, lounge sets, things that people could wear on Zoom calls, but they basically feel like they’re wearing pajamas. So super comfy to wear at home but formal enough that they look OK on Zoom. I was really lucky that I could get these things in for immediate order.”

When Iceblink – along with almost all other shops – closed in the spring lockdown, McNicol worked hard during those six weeks to get her online store set up through Shopify. Before Covid-19 hit, her website included just the basic facts about the store and customers still had to visit in person.

Online sales became brisk and she began shipping orders to customers in Yellowknife, Hay River, Cambridge Bay and even the United States, United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Supply chain disruptions, which have been a problem for Northern businesses in the pandemic, affected Iceblink only to a limited degree.

“A lot of our orders didn’t come, I got partial orders in, I’m having to wait much longer (for some orders),” McNicol said. “And people don’t know what you don’t have. They don’t know that you’ve ordered all this stuff. We’ve had plenty of things to offer people so it’s not like big gaps in here. It’s just things that I would have liked to have arrived that didn’t.”

Aside from relatively strong demand over the last 11 months, McNicol said the six weeks of closure gave her time to reflect on the direction she was taking Iceblink.

“For the last seven years, I’ve just been kind of responding and reacting, because it’s been busy and there hasn’t been a lot of time to pause to take stock of things physically and mentally,” she said. “And to enjoy being in Yellowknife and really think about where we are, and I really want this store to reflect where we are.”

Out of that reflection came the opportunity to open her in-store cafe Fika, named for the popular Swedish practice of taking a break and having coffee with friends.

The idea had been on the back burner for years. McNicol had wanted to own a coffee shop ever since she worked in a cafe in Glasgow, Scotland decades ago.

She realized in the summer of 2019 that there was a gap in downtown Yellowknife for another cafe that she could fill, after tourists would ask her about where to find coffee shops and she kept directing them elsewhere.

Almost one year ago, staff from Treeline Construction began building the cafe area in the back of the store. McNicol started serving her first coffees eight or nine months ago.

She didn’t do much advertising for Fika, so it has only become popular in the last month.

“It’s going really well. It’s just bringing so many people in. My idea was that, if you want to shop and you want to go for coffee, you can do that. Everything that I’ve done, I’ve done based on what I like. I like comfortable clothing. I like to dress nicely, and I really like coffee. And I don’t want to have to make choices between like, ‘I’ve only got two hours, we’ll go for coffee or we’ll go shop.’ So you can do both (here). And if you’re with somebody who doesn’t want to shop they can hang out on the couch.”

While the NWT’s vaccination program brings the possibility of a gradual return to normalcy, McNicol explained that she has little control over what business will look like as the pandemic winds down.

“I just go day by day. I’m fairly philosophical about things like that,” she said. “I think we’ve got a very strong customer base. I think people are starting more and more to realize how good they have it here with all sorts of things. I think it’s brought more people in that maybe hadn’t been in before. What I do have control over is making this as beautiful of a space with as good a product as I can possibly offer.”

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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