Some businesses booming as Yukoners adjust to pandemic life in Arctic Canada

Rob Fordham says things have been busy at Kilrich Industries, as people seem to be taking on more home improvement projects. ‘It’s just been out of control,’ he said. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)
While many businesses are struggling to survive through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, others are as busy as they’ve ever been.

In Whitehorse, local garden centres, recreational sports stores and lumber stores are seeing a huge influx of people.

Kilrich Industries normally supplies building material to professional home builders and construction companies. But the pandemic has changed things.

Earlier this spring, the company’s president Rob Fordham was worried that business was falling flat. Now, it’s seeing more do-it-yourself customers.

“Sort of around middle of April, as Yukoners started looking around and seeing some of our border controls were successful, they started thinking about projects that maybe they had been thinking about for years or putting off,” he said.

“Since then it’s just been out of control.”

Fordham says his business is doing 60 to 70 per cent more transactions than last year at this time. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Fordham said his company is doing 60 to 70 per cent more transactions than last year at this time, and seeing twice as many customers on any given day.

Fordham said people are buying deck wood, planter boxes and shed and greenhouse supplies.

He said it looks like it’s going to be a busy construction season after all. But he said that creates demand for lumber, and therefore higher prices.

‘We are fortunate right now’

Brian Edelman, owner of Listers Motor Sports in Whitehorse, is also doing good business these days. The store sells ATVs, side-by-sides and dirt bikes.

“We are aware that we are fortunate right now,” he said. “I feel for a lot of those businesses who are not busy right now.”

‘I feel for a lot of those businesses who are not busy right now,’ said Brian Edelman, owner of Listers Motor Sports in Whitehorse. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

He said business got off to a slow start in April but it is booming this month. He said Yukoners are discovering the territory is a big backyard to be explored.

“I think there is a little bit of pent-up demand, but as well I think a lot of families want to get together and do things that involve recreation, and we sell that sort of product,” he said.

He said a lot of new customers are coming into his showroom, maybe looking for other ways to enjoy a vacation closer to home.

They’re seeing lots of new faces at Listers Motor Sports these days. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

“Maybe they travel lots in the summer, they go visit family in Ontario or things like that — so there is a lot of faces I haven’t seen before,” he said.

He also figures that people just have more time on their hands and are looking for things to do.

“I think if you talk to the garden shops, they are cleaned out of everything,” he said.

Lorne Metropolit, owner of Yukon Gardens in Whitehorse, said it’s true — he’s been extremely busy this year.

“This is our garden centre two,” he said, walking through a greenhouse.

“This is predominantly more for outdoor vegetables and perennials. We usually have about 750 hanging baskets in here. Needless to say, they’re gone.”

Lorne Metropolit, owner of Yukon Gardens, says he’s normally got hundreds of hanging baskets on display. ‘Needless to say, they’re gone,’ he said. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Yukon Gardens opened for the season three weeks ago, and Metropolit said people started buying plants right away, to start outdoor gardening projects and grow their own vegetables.

“For some reason, it was the ‘toilet paper program’ where people were coming in worried about something and buying large amounts earlier than they ever have before — possibly worried that when they came back in a couple of weeks there wouldn’t be any,” he said.

He said he has been seeding continually and bringing out new plants every week. He’s never seen this many Yukoners looking to start a vegetable garden before.

Flowers at Yukon Gardens in Whitehorse. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

“I have been here for 40-some years and you kind of think you know or see many people. Well, there is a lot of people coming out of the woodwork that I don’t know,” he said.

He said it’s good to see so many people, because gardening is not a bad hobby.

And with all the flowers sold in the last few weeks, Metropolit thinks the city is going to look a lot prettier.

Related stories from around the North:

Arctic: Roundup of COVID-19 responses around the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Canada: Hotels in northern Canada laid off dozens as COVID-19 shutdown squashed business overnight, CBC News

Finland: Finland joins other Nordic countries in virtual tourism due to pandemic, Yle News

Greenland/Denmark: COVID-19 could delay Kingdom of Denmark’s Arctic strategy, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland talks COVID-19 with Canada, Greenland foreign ministers, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norwegian Arctic wilderness tourism hit particularly hard by coronavirus, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Closed military naval town in Russian Arctic sees major increase in COVID-19 cases, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden seen as major source of COVID-19 in Western Finland region, Yle News

United States: Alaska’s largest rural airline, Ravn, files plan to liquidate as bankruptcy proceeds, Alaska Public Media

Mike Rudyk, CBC News

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