A common trend in this micro coastal city is that the youths depart to more sizeable pastures once they graduate to get educated or trained and then eventually return to settle down once and for all as a loyal Rupertite.
More recently, some of these Rupertites are taking the initiative to be the change they want to see in their community, or something along those lines, as the reworked Mahatma Gandhi quote goes.
Over the past couple of months, Cow Bay Road gained two new store fronts to fill the empty ‘for lease’ space along the city’s tourist strip. Both businesses add a certain vibe to the miniature but eclectic shopping district, and the entrepreneurs are hoping that they’re starting a new wave of more small businesses to come.
Marcie LeBlanc opened Le BLANC Boutique in November. “I plan on staying and I want Rupert to thrive. I want it to be the city that I remember when I was a kid, when every business was full,” she said.
This isn’t her first time running a business. She moved to Vancouver for a few years to study at Blanche Macdonald Centre where she was later hired to work in the fashion department. When the city scene started to feel too big for LeBlanc she moved to Victoria and opened a boutique selling her own clothing designs, jewellery and other brands.
The desire to plant roots in the North Coast led her back to Prince Rupert where she saw plenty of opportunity. “We’re used to not having very much option here. Everyone is turning to online shopping, leaving town, spending money elsewhere, basically not keeping as much money in the community,” LeBlanc said.
She saw one of the gaps that needed to be filled — adding a retail shop that brings more variety in style to the city. Another draw was being a part of the Cow Bay scene, which is Rupert’s closest thing to Vancouver’s trendy Gastown.
In less than two weeks, she transformed an old nail salon with bright blue walls and painted flowers into a modern black and white open space with a West Coast flare. The clothing racks have a cedar base that was milled from the shores in the area. “I wanted to keep it local feeling,” she said.
It has only been a couple of months but the response from people in the city and visitors has been awesome, she said, and now she’s purchasing more to fill the racks and she’s considering selling men’s clothing as well.
In January, another shop opened its doors after transforming the unused space with industrial decor sourced from other nearby businesses, such as an up-cycled cable spool table and corrugated metal siding for the front desk.
The self-taught photographer, Tyler Meers, is sharing the space with Judy Carlick-Pearson. He opened the studio to promote the fine art aspect of his work after spending the first year and a half based out of his home. Carlick-Pearson’s business is tucked away behind the studio space where she runs Synergy Strategies, a resource management company.
Both Meers and Carlick-Pearson grew up in Prince Rupert and spent time in Vancouver. Meers studied outdoor recreation management but the tourism industry wasn’t strong in Rupert when he returned so he turned to photography for his career.
He chose to set up shop along Cow Bay because he sees it as a hip and upcoming area. “A lot of that small local business went to the downtown core. The past five years it has been pretty bare. There’s a lot to starting a business and to lead the way for other people who want to start their own business,” Meers said.
Launching the business has been a financial risk but he wants to pave the way for other entrepreneurs. Carlick-Pearson said she feels that other businesses in the city could work together to build each other up. She has already started giving back to the community by hiring interns and sponsoring a boys basketball team.
“We not only created our own space but we’re also looking at it as a social enterprise to help the community out,” she said.
Meers sees his shop as a destination for people to check out his artwork, but also as a way to create a team of entrepreneurs, artists and people with drive and a similar vision.
Meers is involved in Futurpreneur, a young entrepreneur networking organization in Canada and he is also looking for grants and subsidy programs with Carlick-Pearson.
LeBlanc hasn’t looked into grants to help her business grow but she plans to start searching once she gets more settled. She said she will definitely sign up for the LovePrinceRupert.com, a promotional website that was launched last year to prop up small businesses in the area, and another sign of commercial growth in the city.
More proof that the city’s entrepreneurship is growing is from the program director at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business, Mark Selman, who introduced an Executive MBA 36-month program to a select group of students at the Northwest Community College.
“I did some research around youth entrepreneurship and talking to people to develop the program, and one of the reasons we’re here is because of the interest in the region,” Selman said.
He was expecting at least one of the LNG projects to be underway in time for the program but his prediction is that when it finally does occur “there will be an explosion of entrepreneurship here and I think a lot of people are positioning themselves in case that happens”.