Growing up in Yellowknife, you see many businesses open their doors, only to close them a few years (or even months) later. It can be hard for entrepreneurs here to make a go of it for a variety of reasons, including the high costs of operating in the subarctic, difficulty keeping staff in a town where retail wages are hard to live on, and the rise of online-shopping.
As a tribute to some of the businesses who tried, despite the odds, here are a few of the enterprises I miss from my childhood that are closed (but not forgotten).
Mary & Friend’s Tea Room
The B&B AT 3505 McDonald Drive, where you can now enjoy excellent meals at the Dancing Moose Café, used to be home to Mary and Friends Tea Room.
Mary and Wayne Bryant expanded their Old Town home to create the bed and breakfast in 1999, and in 2000 they opened the tea room. Mary wanted to offer a cozy, warm environment with unique décor and wholesome food. Mary and Friend’s was named in honour of all their good friends who helped make the business a reality: painting the walls, scouring garage sales for antique tea cups, and sewing chair cushions.
The tea room seated 24 people, and the walls, chairs and tables were painted in light pinks and peach. Room dividers were set up strategically throughout, and fireweed was painted onto the windows for a decorative touch. Mary was inspired by memories of her grandma’s cooking, and did all the baking herself.
The menu included the “5 S’s”: soups, salad, sandwiches, savouries and sweets.
I used to go there with my mom as a child, and loved the bright patterns and floral arrangements. Some women would go dressed in fancy clothes and hats, though no one was offended by my shambling presentation. And although I certainly wasn’t drinking my tea in a “ladylike fashion” (always more focused on the food portion), Mary often dropped by the different tables to say hello, and you really did feel like you were among friends. It was there that I began the process of learning the rules of duplicate cutlery (why the two forks? why is one bigger?), a process that continues today.
Mary & Friends stayed open until 2007, when the Bryant’s sold the B&B.
Although they were very busy for those years – juggling the B&B, Tea Room and catering, they always felt it was worth it. “I met so many interesting and lovely people, and felt such a part of my community,” Mary said.
Friends who helped Mary Bryant decorate her tearoom, l-r: Jesse Jasper, Penny Weir, Joan Findlay, Jean Mounsey, Chris Tricoteaux and Patti Jasper.
Chic Chik / Boarderline
The building where you now find Taste of Saigon, at 4913 50 St., used to be home to Chic Chik, a trendy retail store that catered to girls and young women between the ages of 12 to 25. The store opened in 2000 and as a kid, much of my limited allowance was spent there on knick knacks, clothes and accessories.
The owner, Joni Walker, loved picking out the home décor, clothing and gifts, wanting to give Yellowknifers a chance to buy what was “cool” down south.
This was before online shopping was really a thing, so it offered young people a chance to stay on trend (and helped alleviate the need for a six-hour shopping nightmare at West Ed). Joni also owned another store called Langlois, which catered to an older clientele. Before Chic Chik opened, there was a small section of Langlois tailored to this younger crowd, but they would sell through their stock so quickly she realized they needed a larger space, and Chic Chik was born.
After a year in business, Joni noticed the desire for men’s apparel, so she introduced Boarderline, the “guy section” of the store. Staffing was never an issue, in fact there was always a waiting list of teenagers wanting to work at the store. Over time, to avoid the confusion to suppliers, the store just went by Boarderline. It moved to 5023 49th St., which is where it was when it closed in 2012.
To this day I still have some of the random trinkets I bought at Chic Chik, including a lime green tube filled with what appears to be radioactive goo. You turn it upside down and bubbles flow up and goo flows down.
And repeat. What I did get rid of though (much to the relief of my family), was the screen of blue bead stringers hanging from my bedroom door, swinging and chattering every time it was opened or shut. (I swear, they were cool at the time.)
photo courtesy Jessie Oystrek
Ton of Fun
Finally, Ton of Fun – the closest Yellowknife ever came to having an amusement park (not counting those three-day drop-in carnivals that arrive most summers). Located across from Wal Mart, where you now find Reitman’s, Ton of Fun opened in 1998, offering an impressive indoor play station for climbing and sliding, party rooms and even an arcade. The climbing structures were designed to fit under the 9-metre ceiling, and included a ball pit and a maze of tunnels. The ball pit was cleaned using a special machine that sucked up the balls, washed and dried them, and then spat them back out.
Ton of Fun was a franchise, but a relatively new one – there were only two locations in operation when Jessie and Gord Oystrek decided to open one in Yellowknife. Jessie said she wanted to give the kids a place to blow off steam in those winter months when it was so cold outside. And it did. There were playgroups throughout the week where kids could do crafts and play games, birthday parties with homemade pizza and cake and Jesse even offered teen dances on Saturday night.
For a six-year old kid from the North, that place was like magic: offering a taste of the “down south” arcades and jungle gyms I could rarely frequent.
I remember my brothers and I often found ourselves begging our parents to take us. “Please, please, please, let us go, it’s a ton of fun! A TON OF FUN!” If someone held a birthday party at Ton of Fun (with their parents footing the bill), their social standing shot through the roof, and they were guaranteed a 100 per cent attendance rate. In fact, I still think back fondly on the one birthday party I attended there (thanks again Katie).
But Ton of Fun was operating during hard financial times; the gold mines were winding down, and Jessie felt that people were afraid to spend their money. Weekends were busy, but they needed more customers during the week to stay afloat. It was also hard being part of a franchise, because all decisions had to be approved by head office. After two years in operation, Ton of Fun closed due to financial constraints. “In the end we just couldn’t keep up. The hardest thing was locking the door and letting it go. It’s a part of life you will never forget. We have good memories of those days.” (And so do I.)
These are just three of the many businesses have come and gone in my time, and if you talk to my parents their list will be far longer. I remember when Dairy Queen opened, and we all screamed for ice cream, or buying beanie babies and a hot chocolate at the Trapper’s Cabin. There are so many business gems that come and go, but that’s the way it is, here and everywhere.