Businesses led by women rejuvenate a formerly dusty Yellowknife mall

Businesses led by women rejuvenate a formerly dusty Yellowknife mall

The Center Ice Plaza in Yellowknife’s uptown has had high turnover lately. Covid-19, the closure of its largest store and last summer’s wildfire evacuation all played a part.

Now, local women entrepreneurs are breathing new life into a hidden-away space once dominated by vacant units.

For a while after upscale food and gift store Luluz Market closed, hairstylist Gillian Whitehead had the only business operating in the plaza.

“I have been in here for five years, and people will still walk by and be like, ‘I didn’t realize there’s businesses in here,’” said Whitehead.

She said she’s happy to now have neighbours who not only make her feel safer in the space, but also help bring in foot traffic – and come to her to have their hair done.

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Businesses led by women rejuvenate a formerly dusty Yellowknife mall

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Gillian Whitehead tends to a client’s locks. Claire McFarlane/Cabin Radio

Whitehead said Yellowknifers should consider exploring some of the shopping areas that exist beyond the downtown core.

“Businesses in Yellowknife are all over, and we all should support downtown, we should support this side,” she said, referring to uptown.

“I think we need to get out of that mindset that it’s just about downtown.”

Fresh slice of foot traffic

Whitehead’s niece, Madison Payne, recently took over a gift shop behind the salon called Ivy & Birch Boutique.

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The shop sells soaps, candles, clothing and more from predominantly Canadian makers.

The Ivy & Birch Boutique sells gifts from predominantly Canadian makers. Claire McFarlane/Cabin Radio

“I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to have my own small business,” said Payne, adding that her aunt was doing well on her own, but it was sometimes difficult for her to help customers in the shop if she was doing a client’s hair.

In the past, said Payne, Luluz helped bring customers into the plaza. Now, she says she has seen an increase in foot traffic since Freshslice Pizza opened at the front of the building.

People tend to explore while they’re enjoying a slice or waiting for their take-out orders to be ready, she said.

‘People don’t know we’re here yet’

Julia Reid works full-time at one of the plaza’s newest additions, Mahsicho, which sells beads, craft supplies, hats and apparel, and is owned by local beader April Bell and Trent Hayward.

Julia Reid at Mahsicho. Claire McFarlane/Cabin Radio
Items for sale at Mahsicho. Claire McFarlane/Cabin Radio

Reid said that while traffic has been slow through the plaza, it is helped by people who are coming through specifically looking for Freshslice, Whitehead’s hair salon or Boreal Kids Co, a children’s clothing store.

“I feel like beading and Indigenous artisans definitely have a place in Yellowknife. There’s definitely a market for that but a lot of people just don’t know that we’re here yet,” said Reid.

Lyric Sandhals and co-owner Amy Allan moved their business from the downtown 50-50 Mini Mall to the Center Ice Plaza in May.

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They run Boreal Kids Co, which sells consignment clothing for kids, women and expectant mothers, as well as new maternity clothes and children’s products.

Sandhals said one of their biggest reasons for the move was accessibility. Free parking for customers was a nice perk as well.

Co-owner Lyric Sandhals behind the counter at Boreal Kids Co. Claire McFarlane/Cabin Radio
Shoes for sale at Boreal Kids Co. Claire McFarlane/Cabin Radio

“Our customers, they have kids and strollers, so it’s nice for them to have a parking lot and be able to walk in and not deal with stairs,” said Sandhals.

She says she has been welcomed into the small Center Ice Plaza community.

“It’s nice to have neighbours, and everyone’s been really warm and welcoming and wanting to collaborate and work together,” said Sandhals, “which is really nice.”