July 18, 2013 Features & Images » Feature Story

Village Pioneers 

Longtime businesses weather the Whistler storms and are still standing

click to flip through (7) PHOTO COURTESY OF WHISTLER MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES. - An original Eldon Beck 3D model of  Whistler Village, circa 1979.  (Highlighted  buildings are a random graphic representation and not indicative of actual businesses discussed in this feature)
  • Photo courtesy of Whistler Museum and Archives.
  • An original Eldon Beck 3D model of Whistler Village, circa 1979. (Highlighted buildings are a random graphic representation and not indicative of actual businesses discussed in this feature)

Page 2 of 4

From ski town to four-season resort

It cannot be understated just how critical the role of retail is in Whistler.

Of the $1.3 billion GDP created in the resort, 26 per cent comes from the retail sector — more than $345 million.

In the Davey's world, that's a lot of light bulbs and crazy glue.

So, just how many light bulbs to you need to sell to make ends meet in Whistler?

Business at Whistler Hardware has been steadily growing since the beginning.

"Whistler is getting bigger and bigger, more and more happening all the time," says Davey. "It's just been a great business. That's why we're still here."

The Davey's aren't the only ones.

Some of those family-run businesses that took that leap of faith in the early '80s are still going strong today, able to stand the test of time, through the deep recession of 1982, the bad snow years, and the post-Olympic slump.

Like Jack Davey's dream of retiring with a hardware store, Hazel Ellis dreamed of books.

"She was such a great reader, she devoured books," says son Dan Ellis.

Hazel raised her family in Squamish and when the kids were out of the house, new possibilities in Whistler beckoned.

And so began a little 300-sq.ft. bookstore called Armchair Books in 1981.

"Whistler was a new frontier for new business prospects," says Ellis.

"It was a calculated risk that it would fly and sure enough, it did."

Just up The Stroll, the Carlbergs, too, were banking on Whistler.

Architect James Carlberg designed the Whistler View in 1981. It was one of the buildings that blocked the Davey's mountain view!

After selling the residential units in the building, his wife Frances decided to open a retail store in the bottom called Carlberg Gifts.

"At the time we opened there really wasn't much summer tourism," says Lisa Carlberg-Dew, their daughter, who has been running the store for more than 30 years.

"We had to survive on the ski industry in the winter."

It was a struggle, to say the least, for those fledging village stores.

After a year or two in business, Whistler and Blackcomb were seeing 647,000 skier visits, up from 280,000 in 1978. One thousand brand new hotel and condo beds were just built in the village and 120,000 square feet of commercial space was serving it all.

Flash forward 30 years. There are more than two million skier visits, 8,000 rentable beds, and the commercial floor has ballooned.

Did Jack and Hilda Davey see that future? Did James and Frances Carlberg have a crystal ball into ski resort gift shops? Did Hazel and Phil Ellis think their "optimistic experiment" of a little book store would grow to quadruple in size from its 300sq.ft. roots?

It almost all came to a grinding halt in 1982 as the recession sank into Whistler.

The village development company — the Whistler Land Company — went bankrupt around these fledging businesses, and many others lost their shirts.

But they managed to hold on.

"My dad was sweating bullets over that one, I tell you," says Davey shaking his head. "They invested everything in this place."

Crawling out of the recession, Carlberg-Dew says she began noticing a change in 1986 when the world came to Vancouver for EXPO.

That was the beginning, she says, of the one-season resort changing to a two-season resort. Summer visitors had found Whistler.

But, there were still those long shoulder seasons to contend with, those seemingly interminable months of rain, either waiting for the sun to come out or the snow to start falling.

In the last five years, however, village businesses report a significant change.

That spring shoulder season is gone now replaced with conference traffic and other visitors, making the long wait for summer business almost moot.

Carlberg-Dew says her fiscal year end is May 31 because it was always the dead time of year, time to catch up on the bookwork.

"I wish I could change my fiscal yearend now," she laughs, realizing that it's not a bad problem to have. 

Speaking of...

Related Locations

Interactive Map

Today's COVID-19 cases in Canada

Click each province to see the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, deaths, recovered patients, and tests administered...more.

Latest in Feature Story

  • Dirt Designations

    Part 1: The stories behind Whistler's mountain bike trails
    • May 23, 2020
  • Bumps in the road

    In-SHUCK-ch Forest Service Road has only continued to deteriorate, residents say
    • May 15, 2020
  • A ski pioneer from coast to coast

    Legendary Canadian Ski Hall of Famer Lorne McFadgen's legacy looms large over Blackcomb Ski School
    • May 8, 2020
  • More »

More by Alison Taylor

© 1994-2020 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation