The owner of Flowers North told Cabin Radio increasing competition and the threat of a strike mean her Yellowknife store is almost certain to shut down.
Through tears, Stacie Smith declared herself “a failure” and said she had already laid off several staff in a bid to make ends meet.
“Unless I magically win the lottery, I don’t see the shop lasting beyond Christmas,” she said. “I’ll try to keep it open until after Christmas, but I don’t see it sustaining itself.”
Flowers North is four decades old as an enterprise. Smith has worked there for seven years and been the store’s owner for the past four.
“There’s not a lot of foot traffic coming in since the arrival of other businesses here in town that offer flowers,” she said.
Other businesses in the sector include Rebecca’s Flowers and newer entrant Let Me Knot, which opened in late 2017 after placing second in the City of Yellowknife’s Win Your Space business incubation contest.
“There’s less going around in terms of money,” Smith continued. “With the strike that’s been in the conversation for months, people are holding on to their money a lot tighter. Flowers, giftware, plants, and chocolates aren’t a necessity.”
The Union of Northern Workers and territorial government, at loggerheads over a collective agreement for almost three years, met for two days of mediation talks late last month.
The mediator’s report, promised within two weeks of those talks, has yet to be made public, with both sides accused by workers of critically failing to keep those affected adequately updated.
The union says strike action is unlikely before Christmas, but thousands of its members are braced for an impending walkout if no compromise can be found.
‘It was my dream’
“It’s disheartening,” said Smith, who was also sworn in as a city councillor last week. “I’ve put a lot of time, energy, and care into the upkeep and revamping, and it’s time away from my family, driving my dream. But unfortunately it wasn’t successful.
“I’ve had to lay off some of my employees just to try to keep things going. They were very understanding in having to leave, and I am in my shop every single day, on weekends, after hours, and it is still not succeeding.
“It kind-of feels like I’ve failed. It’s more my own, personal failure than anything else. It was always my dream to own a business, make beautiful things, be part of events, and showcase the stuff that I could create.”
Smith said she applied to the NWT’s Business Development Investment Corporation (BDIC) and the federal Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) for help, but was told her business did not qualify for financial support.
“BDIC basically told me what I couldn’t have. When I asked for information and if I could go in and see somebody, they were very resistant to having me go in and book a meeting. They were not helpful,” she said.
“I then applied for funding with BDC, jumping through hoops with the government trying to find any sort of funding. I am apparently not eligible for any of it. They talk about there being a plethora of funding for Indigenous people who are entrepreneurs, but I have yet to find anything that’s out there.
“I’m going to hold out until Christmas is done. But I think, once Christmas is done, I’m going to have to close the doors and just call it at that point.”
Smith received the City of Yellowknife’s 2017 Trailblazer Award for her work as a female entrepreneur. Now, she says, she may be forced to apply for government desk jobs she neither wants nor feels certain of getting.
“I tried applying for a government job just before my mat leave was up with my first [child], and I couldn’t get a government job for the life of me – and I’ve got two diplomas and a degree,” she said.
“So, to go back out there in the workforce would be interesting.
“I know there are other business owners out there that are feeling exactly the way that I’m feeling, have put their heart and soul into their businesses, and it just wasn’t enough.”