On Tuesday evening, Canadian Tire in Yellowknife will be turn off the music and turn down lights and walkie-talkies, creating what may be the first sensory-friendly shopping experience at a large NWT retail store.
From 6-9pm, the store will have signs requesting shoppers keep noise to a minimum to help create an inclusive environment that is not overly stimulating for people with sensory issues.
“One of our staff members came to us and asked if we would consider hosting [a sensory-friendly night] because he has an autistic grandchild and family members with Aspergers, and he thought it would be nice for us to do,” explained store co-owner Karen Butorac.
“We said sure, that sounds great.”
Local Canadian Tire staff researched what a sensory-friendly shopping experience should look like and then chose Tuesday, normally a quieter shopping evening, as the best night for the event.
“If it goes well, we plan to continue it once a month,” said Butorac.
The Yellowknife store’s Facebook post has been well-received by the community, with residents commending Canadian Tire on the initiative.
“We were not expecting that kind of response but it’s so lovely to see,” said Butorac.
“There’s obviously a need for it in the community and we’re so happy to see the response."
Denise McKee, president of the NWT Autism Society, said that while her organization often shares similar events in other provinces – and hosts its own sensory-friendly events – this is the first time she has seen something like this in an NWT box store.
“I’m hoping this will inspire other businesses, especially grocery stores and larger retailers like Walmart and the Independent," said McKee, "where sometimes families can encounter very difficult situations. They can find it overwhelming to bring their family members or themselves into that kind of an atmosphere to do the shopping.
"This just makes it so much more pleasant and really inclusive for our communities."
McKee said competing sounds and lights can neurologically overwhelm people with sensory issues.
"And so when those things are lessened, or are brought down and are moderated, it becomes much easier for that person to self-regulate and be able to participate in that environment," she said, "and not necessarily have a situation arise where they're overstimulated or overwhelmed."
McKee encourages movie theatres and live theatres to follow suit.
“We applaud Canadian Tire because this is a real step forward and we really hope it ignites an interest," she said.
"We do have quite a few families within the Northwest Territories … that experience these challenges when shopping or participating in any kind of event that involves a crowd or a larger area."