Last month Tony Wang was toiling over his brand new business, Northern Sky Films, and listening to the radio as news of the growing pandemic made clear it was time to close.
Disappointed, he cancelled appointments with tourists eager to see his dome theatre, which offers a 360-degree aurora experience. His two employees locked the doors.
That was March 17, as a series of increasingly stringent orders mandating social distancing were issued, forcing many businesses, tourism-related or otherwise, to suspend operations. Wang’s worries have faded since then.
“I’m calmed down now,” he said. “I think it always happens like this. We can’t predict the things (that) happen. We have to live our lives.”
When he opened for business around the peak of the Aurora Borealis season, he thought it was an ideal time to attract customers. He was ushering in visitors for free screenings to get the word out and build contacts.
But within a month of those previews, the business was shuttered indefinitely.
Located at Centre Ice Plaza, Wang’s Northern Sky Films is a geodesic dome where patrons can lean back and watch films projected on its ceiling. It’s billed as an immersive experience.
For Wang, a recent immigrant and former vice-president of a Chinese transit company, it’s an opportunity to expand Yellowknife’s tourism offerings and contribute to his adopted community.
But now he’s unsure what those tourism offerings will even look like when the pandemic mitigation measures are lifted.
“My business is about tourism,” he said. “I think when we reopen the economy, I don’t think tourism will be like before.”
He’s anxious to re-open as soon as he can and reestablish a cash flow to pay his employees and cover costs.
However, it will take years for tourism to fully recover, he said. In the meantime, he plans to redirect his offerings to local customers.
When the business was just opening last month, Liang Chen, one of Wang’s collaborators, floated some ways Yellowknifers could enjoy the dome.
He envisioned residents doing yoga in the dead of winter with a beach projected on the dome as a backdrop. The theatre might also host catered and themed dinners, or electronic dance parties, which was actually what the building was originally designed for, Wang said.
He also saw the opportunity for educational uses, breaking up textbook material, dull by comparison, with 360-degree video.
“If education’s more fun, then more kids will be involved in it,” he said.
It would also be possible to hold events with a dome placed at Somba K’e park, he said.
Those ideas could bear fruit once the economy re-opens but in the meantime, Wang has some concerns.
“Everyone hopes we can reopen the economy as soon as possible,” Wang said. “Life before will not come again. Maybe we have new challenges to change our minds, to fix our business.”