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Village Pioneers

Longtime businesses weather the Whistler storms and are still standing



Just before 10 a.m. on the sweltering Canada Day long weekend, Ken Davey has already sold some batteries, directed a tourist to the back shelves for the portable barbecues and listened to the bell jingling at his entrance more than a dozen times.

Whistler Hardware hasn't even officially opened for the day yet but it looks as though it's going to be a busy one.

Davey is used to working long weekends and takes it all in stride, weaving through his jam-packed store — past the coffeemakers, the crazy glue, the light bulbs, the board games, the dangly earrings, the postcards — to the office at the back and waves vaguely in the direction of Whistler Mountain.

"We used to watch the skiers ski down the back, there was nothing there. It was pretty neat," he says, but he isn't wistful for the past.

"We watched everything rise around us."

If there's a secret to longtime success for village businesses, only a handful of people can offer a three-decade insight.

They are the village pioneers — still going strong, having weathered recessions, pre-Olympic highs, post-Olympic slumps, the ebb and flow of the American dollar, the meteoric rise of the Internet shopper.

They've seen businesses come and go, crippled by high rents and other resort taxes, bad seasons and a retail landscape that seems to be changing monthly.

The municipality is leading the charge to keep the village relevant with its 'Whistler 3.0' brainstorming initiative.

And yet, here's the thing: village business is very much alive and well in Whistler, despite the challenges.

For 33 years, the Daveys — parents Jack and Hilda and their son Ken — watched the transformation of Whistler Village firsthand, from town dump to world-class four-season resort.

Their vantage point was one of the best little 1,500-sq.-ft. pieces of prime village retail at Village Square, where the village experiment all began.

This is the spot Jack bought to realize his dream of retiring from the armed forces with a little hardware store. What better place to do it than the place they loved to ski?

Little has changed in this store — a throwback to hardware stores of old — a place where you can find pretty much anything you need, even if you didn't realize you needed it.

And yet, there have been massive changes to the retail industry in general.

"I've had some offers on it already," admits Davey. "We're still not really ready yet to retire... You know, the sad thing is that everybody that places an offer on here has really got another idea for this place, right? Which would be really sad to see."

The pressure for change, particularly for those small independents, is relentless but through it all village business owners continue to work hard to stay current and relevant and... alive.