The city’s first winner of the Win Your Space YK contest, Ja-pain, has gone up for sale.
In 2017, Seiji Suzuki proposed his idea for the Japanese-style bakery in the Win Your Space Yk contest, in which one entrepreneur would be selected to receive a full-year lease in a downtown space for free. Suzuki won the contest, which came with $10,000 from NWT BDIC for his start-up, while the city waived his business licensing fee.
The following year, he opened up the shop and he said one month after opening that business was steady. After another year in 2019, the pandemic hit, which spelled disaster for many small businesses, including Ja-pain.
Unlike many businesses at the time, he chose not to close the bakery down nor his other business, Sushi North. Suzuki said in 2021 that he estimated business was down by 75 per cent at the bakery.
On Monday, the business was listed for sale by Coldwell Banker Northern Bestsellers at $85,000, which includes all the fixtures, furniture and equipment. A sign inside the bakery states that the store is closed until further notice due to staff shortages and a mechanical issue.
Yellowknifer asked city councillor Steve Payne what he thought the city needed to do to help small businesses. He said that it is not the responsibility of the city to make sure businesses are successful, and that a number of factors are at play in determining why a business closes down or not.
“Is Seiji getting ready to retire? Has he had enough? Did he take on too much? Maybe it’s the location? There’s many reasons why businesses shut down,” he said.
Payne explained that the role of the city is to remove barriers for people to start their businesses. He said that during the pandemic, the city waived business fees and gave some restaurants in the downtown core access to funding for sidewalk patios as examples for what the city has done to help businesses.
“Economic development-wise, we’re doing what we can. Is there more that we could do? Absolutely. There’s always more that we can do but when you’re working with taxpayer money, we can only do so much,” he said.
Payne wished Suzuki all the best in his future endeavors.
Cynthia Mufandaedza, second vice-president of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, also responded to what could be done to help small business and she advised that residents should shop local, making sure that local money stays local.
Yellowknifer contacted Suzuki for comment but he did not respond before press deadline.