When Covid-19 hit the Northwest Territories this spring, there was still very little known about how it spread, how contagious it was or even how long it would stay on surfaces.
So, in an abundance of caution, longtime Inuvik businesswoman Bernice Lavoie shut her fabric, clothing, firearm and other supplies store Just Raven’ Fashion, Fabrics and More for ten days, then opened the business up for pick-up and online orders for a month before re-opening with somewhat normal circumstances.
“It was nuts. It really was, you didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “It’s had a different impact in many ways. We had to adjust to accommodate the guidelines and policies of the GNWT in regards to Covid-19. That meant a lot of sanitizing and stuff like that.”
One thing helped her keep the lights on in the early days of the pandemic though — having an online store enabled business to continue while face-to-face interactions were not possible.
“That’s been a blessing to some degree,” she said. “When the pandemic first hit we were able to do curbside services.”
Lavoie admits the pandemic put a number of obstacles in front of her business — for one, her accountant was stranded in the Philippines for the better part of the year, and her supply chain of sewing machines effectively snapped after several factories and warehouses down the line closed down.
On top of that, the rush for things like toilet paper in stores across North America lead to big box stores oversupplying those products. With no where to store their overstock, a lot of businesses are keeping the shipping containers they arrived in, meaning there are few containers to actually move goods to active businesses.
However, in spite of the set backs, Lavoie said her staff have been extremely busy this year, largely thanks to shop local initiatives.
“We’re getting a lot of orders from communities. They’re government funded and part of their policy is that they have to shop local, so it’s helped,” she said. “Judging from all the activity, it’s been busier than usual.
In operation since 2013, Just Raven’ is the latest incarnation of businesses Lavoie runs in tandem with her husband Joe since 1994. Previously known as Arctic Rim Sportswear and Crafts, the business has undergone many changes throughout her life. The pair also own Arctic Rim Motor Sports and the local Home Hardware franchise.
Noting her biggest problem at this point was being too busy, Lavoie praised her employees for keeping up with demand, noting she did a lot of her own work from home.
“I appreciate the staff I have. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have been able to push through this pandemic the way we have,” she said. “I’m thankful for the initiatives that the governments have taken and thankful for the staff that have helped me pull through this period.
“And I’m thankful for our customers for being understanding with the situation.”