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Games a win for Whitehorse businesses

The Northwest Territories junior female speed skating team picked up a gold medal for the 3000-metre relay last week, but that wasn't all the girls took home.

The Northwest Territories junior female speed skating team picked up a gold medal for the 3000-metre relay last week, but that wasn’t all the girls took home.

The entire team also spent an afternoon combing the racks at And-Again Consignment Store, looking for clothes that presumably would go well with a gold ulu.

As owner Janice Lattin rang up their purchases, they told her their goal was to hit all the secondhand stores in town.

It was a scene that played itself out again and again in Whitehorse stores last week.

“We were expecting a nice hit from the Arctic Winter Games but I think we got more, much more than we expected,” said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

With about 2,000 athletes, coaches and staff from all over the circumpolar North invading Whitehorse for the week, restaurants and hotels expected a windfall but retailers also got a boost.

“It’s been a great week for us,” said Genevieve Beaudin, the manager of Board Stiff. “Some kids were coming to shop here everyday and coming back to buy more the next day.

“They were not just looking around, they were actually buying. They brought money to buy stuff here,” she said.

Compared to the same time last year, sales at the store doubled, she said.

Given that a lot of the participants are from relatively small northern communities, Beaudin wasn’t that surprised with the rush.

“You have to think that a lot of those kids are from little small towns where there’s not necessarily as many options for shopping and the stuff costs a lot more money - if you live in Russia, for example. So for them, it’s like coming into the city,” she said.

Shoes and clothes were the biggest sellers.

“They were definitely into the clothes,” said Beaudin. “All of the brands sold really well. The same stuff we sell to our customers here, Fox and DC and the brands that are a little more edgy.”

While most of the kids brought money, some also brought translators, she said.

“There was a few that didn’t speak much English, but everybody could get around,” said Beaudin. “They were super, super nice. They had really good ways, everybody was smiling, everybody was having fun.

“It was an awesome, good experience for everyone all over.”

While business was booming, it wasn’t all about the money, said Sandor Elek, of Sandor’s Clothing.

“Of course, we saw an uptick in business. How could you not, with an extra 2,000 people in town?” said Elek. “But sales aside, it’s the buzz, it’s the energy created with all the international visitors.”

With all the extra traffic, it was a little hectic for Elek because he was right in the middle of expanding his business.

“We went from 1,200 to 3,400 square feet,” he said. “We had to close for two days right in the middle (of the Games) because I needed to get everything set up. But when we’re set up, we’re set up. Now, boy, it’s an incredible store.

“One little First Nation kid comes up to the counter. He’s like, ‘I don’t like this store.’ We all looked at him and he goes, ‘I love it.’

“That was the best compliment of the games,” said Elek.

Across the street, Walmart was also unusually busy.

“We were up 12 per cent in customer count,” said store manager Brad Blankenagel.

“It was wonderful having the traffic in the store and they were spending money, which was a good thing.”

While essentials like pillows, sheets and blankets were hot items, that wasn’t all that people were looking for, he said.

“Electronics were definitely big sellers,” said Blankenagel “We sold really well in Apple products and fragrances were really popular as well.”

Before they returned home, many of the athletes made a stop at the hairdresser, said Karp, whose wife owns Hair Sensations.

“It was crazy at the salon. You just couldn’t get in. It was just packed, packed all the time,” he said. “The athletes were coming in and just getting some really reds and pinks and purples and yellows and shaving half of their head. It was great.”

The boost for Whitehorse businesses was even better than that experienced during the 2007 Canada Winter Games, said Karp.

“Who knows what the actual reason is,” he said. “It was just wonderful, absolutely wonderful.”

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