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Another shake up in old village vanguard

McCoo's assets sold to local family



Unlike the store with the same name, McCoo the macaw, a beautiful bright blue and gold parrot, didn't last long in Whistler.

It was the late 1980s, business for Jeff Coombs and George McConkey was booming, they had young families on the go, and life was busy. After five or six years welcoming people into their ski/snowboard/lifestyle shop, McCoo was sent to the city to live with a friend.

His brick-and-mortar namesake in the heart of the village, however, has stood the test of time in Whistler, weathering the highs and the lows of resort business.

In December, after almost 27 years in business together, Coombs and McConkey sold their assets in McCoo's and McCoo's Too to another local family.

It's another sign of the changing of the old village vanguard that has recently seen Araxi sell to new owners, Wild Wing open in La Rua's old space and Citta' closing its doors at the end of May.

"I'm getting old," joked Coombs, who is 52. "There comes an expiration date on when you can continue to reinvent yourself.

"This (new) family actually has a passion for what McCoo's has been doing for 26 years.

"A good fit — another family business the way George and I started out."

The business was sold to Kyle Hannay and Natalie Gabriele.

"I think that there's great value in the name McCoo's," said Hannay, who along with his partner Gabriele has lived in Whistler since 1996, working in retail with Whistler Blackcomb, among other things.

"I think it's a well-respected local brand and one of the few really important ones left in Whistler, and I just want to continue that and try to continue their legacy of being different, having unique products and great service."

While he has plans to make improvements and really take advantage of the prime McCoo's locations, he wants to keep the McCoo's formula essentially the same.

"If you walk in the door of that store right now, it looks exactly the way it was when I was running it," said Coombs.

McConkey and Coombs, both skiers and golfers, moved to Whistler with their new wives and their parrot in 1987. They were in their mid-20s, and felt like things were happening in Whistler.

There were major delays, however, as the store was built, and the doors didn't open on their first shop until well into that ski season, a huge snow year as it turned out.

"We lived together," recalled Coombs of those early days. "George's wife was pregnant with their first child. Our condo was filled with inventory and we had no place to put it."

Still, they saw great potential here. And their instincts proved right.

"We're a business of seasonality... Through the good snow years and the bad snow years we always seemed to do pretty well," said Coombs.

What comes to mind most over their more than two-decade long tenure — first with one location then the expansion to McCoo's Too in 1995, another neighbouring expansion in 2000 — are the people that worked there.

Coombs said there are 450 kids on the McCoo's alumni page.

"Over the years there hardly was a stinker in the bunch — fantastic people," he said.

Coombs plans to move to the Okanagan with his wife and build a home on five acres there.

"It's still sitting there; it's waiting for us," he said.

McConkey is staying on at McCoo's as boot fitter for the next three years.

As for McCoo, now 28, he's at the World Parrot Refuge, a place that provides a "home for life" for previously owned pet parrots. There are more than 800 parrots there... in Coombs, B.C., of all places.


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