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Katmandu: the end of the beginning of an era

Iconic store closes village location Today, but developing space at Function Junction

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The impact on retail was significant.

"I talk to a lot of the store owners here, and from what I can tell about 20 per cent of stores are doing really well, about 20 per cent are suffering and the other 60 per cent are just covering costs. Unfortunately I'm in that bottom 20 per cent," he said.

When the Canadian dollar was between 60 and 70 cents U.S., he said retail was much easier. American visitors still like to shop, he said, and are still big spenders compared to other markets, but there are fewer of them and they're spending less than they used to.

For several years, Whistler's bread and butter has been the Lower Mainland, but Long said visitors from Vancouver tend to stick to the chain stores or don't shop at all.

"I get a lot of people who will come in and check us out and say this is the most interesting store in all of Whistler — but they don't buy anything," he said. "I'd say that 90 per cent of my business is local... which also makes a case for moving to Function Junction."

Young, transient and seasonal workers are also a key market for Long, but in the last few years the winter workforce has also shrunk. According to the Whistler Housing Authority survey, some 14,500 employees were required to keep Whistler running back in 2002-2003, while in the winter of 2010-2011 the total number of hires was around 11,800.

"Those 3,000 young people, they were my customers," Long explained.

The high cost of doing business

While rising rents have been cited in the closing of other Whistler businesses, Long said his rent has been fair over the years — although the increase in property taxes, Tourism Whistler fees and maintenance fees have increased significantly since he moved to the village in 1996 and now account for over a third of his total bill per square foot. To put it into perspective, Long said that moving to Function will reduce his overhead costs by over 90 per cent.

For Jelley, it's been tough to see the store he loves losing ground.

"Our thing is that we've always been happy to see people in the store. They get a smile, they get a 'hi,' we go out of our way to help them," said Jelley.

"Someone will come in with a broken binding that really wants to go up the mountain that day, and nobody else will help them. But we'll take it into the back, stick it in the drill press, cut some bolts down to size. It will take us 45 minutes and we'll only charge $10 or $15.

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