Yellowknife enters 'crazy busy' retail boom

Polar Tech Recreation, like several other businesses in the capital, is seeing record sales. 'Probably our best spring and summer ever,' says owner Joey Sutton.

'Unprecedented' sales hit all sectors, as Yellowknifers prepare for a summer at home

Joey Sutton of Polar Tech Recreation hired three or four more people in the last week in what is 'probably our best spring and summer ever.' (Sara Minogue/CBC)

Joey Sutton braced himself when things got weird this past March. 

"I closed for a week and I told my mortgage holder that we were probably going to be closed for three months," said the owner of Yellowknife's Polar Tech Recreation. 

Instead, after things calmed down a bit, Sutton and his team got back to sales. They're now having "probably our best spring and summer ever." 

Last year, Polar Tech sold about 50 ATVs. This year, they sold that many just in May. Overall, Sutton estimates sales are up 40 per cent from last year. He's hired three or four more people in the last week, bringing his staff up to 30, which he called "unbelievable for a place that sells ATVs and some Ski-Doos and a couple boats." 

As for those ATVs?

"We're totally sold out. We're almost totally sold out of boats. We're waiting for manufacturing plants to reopen so we can get more product." 

Darwin Rudkevitch poses next to the city's decorative musk ox, which goes back on display later this week. Sales are up, he says. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

Polar Tech is just one of a handful of businesses in Yellowknife experiencing a boom in sales as Yellowknifers prepare for a summer at home. 

Arctic Farmer is another. 

"Not that it's very nice to say, but we are definitely benefiting from COVID[-19]," said Darwin Rudkevitch. 

The company placed orders for gardening supplies back in November, before anyone had heard of the novel coronavirus. By the time they started planting on March 1, they had a sense it could be a busy year. 

They ended up planting 50 per cent more flowers and vegetables than usual, and selling them all. They're also seeing an uptick in their landscaping business. 

"Everybody wants to be a gardener this year," Rudkevitch said. "Probably because they're stuck at home."  

Jordan Walz is selling loads of supplies for home projects. 'Lots of DIY, lots of Pinterest and lots of YouTube.' (Sara Minogue/CBC)

Jordan Walz has worked for Corothers Home Hardware for 10 years. The general manager said he expected a slow season. It's turned out to be the busiest he's ever had.

"We're having a hard time actually keeping up some of the stock in the store just because the demand has been so high." 

Pressure treated lumber is a big seller. Walz said he's selling it as soon as it arrives. "Everyone doing decks and fences and docks and cabins." 

He's also noticing a difference in the customer base: fewer contractors and more individuals. "Lots of DIY, lots of Pinterest and lots of YouTube, but keeping everyone busy." 

Sandra Stirling says Overlander Sports is nearly sold out of bikes, a first in 37 years of business. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The same thing is happening at Overlander Sports, which co-owner Bill Stirling characterized as "crazy busy" Thursday.

"Look at our bikes," said co-owner Sandra Stirling, pointing to a nearly empty bike rack. "That's all we've got left. Which is unreal." 

That's a first in 37 years, she said.   

The store has been busy since it reopened in May, often with lineups at the door. Stirling said they're also selling lots of boats, running gear and camping equipment. 

At Roy's Audio Video, Maureen Crotty-Williams — a co-owner since the 1980s — called the sales boom "unprecedented." 

Yellowknifers 'want to support local business,' says Maureen Crotty-Williams of Roy's Audio Video. 'You feel that very strongly.' (Sara Minogue/CBC)

It started with a run on TVs as people learned they'd be spending a lot of time at home. Next came demand for cellphones, iPads, connector cables and everything else people needed to work and learn from home. 

"We are so grateful, and thankful, that we sell the type of product that is needed most right now."

Crotty-Williams said the challenges facing Amazon, which has faced delays with shipping and deliveries, are also pushing more customers into the store. She called it a "window of grace" after a long battle with online shopping. 

She also credits Yellowknifers for keeping the goods moving out the door. 

"They want to support local business. You feel that very strongly."