Celebrate The Long Run
What does it take to build a resilient business? What significant challenges did you have to overcome along the way? These were just some of the questions we put to some of our long-term downtown Duncan business owners currently coming up on their 30 year anniversaries.
The year was 1991 and the downtown Duncan we know and love today looked a lot different. Of course, mainstays like Martins Menswear were still around but the economic doldrums of the 1980s had left many storefronts empty. Nonetheless, where some see demise, others see opportunity. It was at this time that there seemed to be a kind of confluence of inspiration among a group of determined and motivated business owners who would go on to open the very businesses we’re recognizing today.
If you’ve ever asked someone “where should I grab a bite to eat?” in downtown Duncan, it’s likely that you’ve been directed to either Just Jakes or the Craig Street Brew Pub, two anchor restaurants owned by Lance and Liz Steward and beloved by many.
When speaking with Liz, she credits the restaurant's longevity to the investments made in their local audience, building loyalty by catering to what they want and not relying on attracting tourists or outside visitors. “It was all of us growing together”, said Liz, when recounting the early days of building a culture they wanted to see downtown alongside a supportive community of neighboring businesses.
Just around the corner on Duncan’s iconic Station Street is the Judy Hill Gallery where owner Judy Hill deals in west coast indigenous art and gift items. Judy aims to bring a high-end customer experience for everyone who walks through the door. “Whether someone buys something that’s $5 or $500, they should feel just as valued” she explained when discussing her values as a business owner.
Judy has also played a huge role in shaping things downtown through her advocacy work with the city’s tourism and totem committees even earning a Scroll Of Honor award for her contributions.
Another business about to celebrate a 30-year milestone is Wishes. Duncan’s premier place for unique gifts, crystals, and all things metaphysical. Having opened her shop following a dream about a train station, owner Jacquie Large has always stuck to a “neverending five-year plan” and trusting her gut instincts.
Though downtown Duncan has outperformed other shopping areas of similar size, the area does face its challenges due, in part, to its unique predicament with municipal boundaries. Building owners face higher commercial taxes than neighboring districts and receive less civic services like garbage or recycling pickup putting the responsibilities on to the occupants. This was a concern mentioned with each interview done for this article. Former city councilor and downtown property owner Geoff Maxwell knows all about this and spoke of the need for constant advocacy on behalf of small businesses to local governments. This was a primary motivation for him and former Mayor Phil Kent to run for city council and form organizations like the DDBIA.
Geoff, Liz, Judy, Jacquie and others who started businesses in the early and mid-nineties have an important shared story that has shaped the downtown we know today; vibrant and unique. Starting with initiatives as simple as raising money for Christmas lights to the Craig Street revitalization efforts, business leaders like these who’ve persevered through the years are due a debt of gratitude for being the face of the town we love.
- Ian Locke
Downtown Duncan BIA