North of Ordinary Experience Centre owner Greg Karais sits for a photo at the business on Sept. 24. Karais recently announced that the centre will be closing due to the loss of revenue caused by COVID-19. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News)

North of Ordinary Experience Centre shutting down

COVID-19 has caused bookings for the space to become almost non-existent, owner says

The North of Ordinary Experience Centre, an event space that also moonlights as a coffee shop, bar, clothing store and tourist information stop in downtown Whitehorse, will soon be closing its doors for good — at least under its current name.

The centre’s phone, owner Greg Karais said in an interview Sept. 24, had previously been “ringing off the hook” about bookings. However, since the reality of COVID-19 set in in the Yukon in March, he’s only received two calls.

“The reality is, we’re an event centre first and foremost,” he said. “If you’re not selling the space by the hour and drinks, you’re not really making money.”

“I want to be critical of government because that’s my nature and I think that’s the nature of a lot of people because I do think they make a lot of mistakes … but the COVID destroyed this business — not necessarily government, not necessarily anything like that— but the circumstances destroyed it.”

Northern Vision Development, which owns the space the experience centre is in, has been “very gracious” about rent, but with so much uncertainty about when, and if, things will ever go back to “normal,” Karais said he feels “stagnant” and that he’s potentially taking away an opportunity from somebody else who might want the space.

And so, he’s decided to either sell the facility as a whole for someone else to run, or, failing that, selling it off its assets piece-by-piece.

“I easily have over a hundred private messages — like, it’s crazy, and there’s got to be hundreds of sad emojis whatever that means, but people are making comments, they liked it and that’s a real compliment in itself for sure,” he said.

“A lot of people put a lot of energy into this place, it wasn’t just me … The community really bid off on this place, we knew that before, that the community liked it.”

Ideally, Karais said, he’d like to sell the centre as a whole, citing the unique collection of Yukon memorabilia that would be difficult to ever have all together in one place ever again — massive vintage movie posters featuring the Yukon and the Klondike, a collection of red plush movie theatre seats, tin sheets and cabinets from old dredges, Klondike-themed pinball machines, newspapers dating back to the ‘60s, and dozens of vintage Yukon licence plates.

“There’s somebody out there who will do great with this place … There’s other people who can do this,” he said.

“I just don’t think I want to do this going forward just with time, circumstances, age, COVID. And with all the other projects that we have, we’re going to be fine, so do I need to work harder? Nah.”

Other North of Ordinary projects, he said, are doing well, including the magazine, local television advertising channel and clothing line, and as he approaches 50, he wants a plan and stability — something that the experience centre can’t offer him right now.

While the fact that the centre is shutting down “sucks,” Karais said he wasn’t necessarily sad for himself and was grateful to the community for having helped transform the space from its humble beginnings in May 2018 to the thriving hub it had been just before COVID — one where people could drop in to watch an important hockey game, dance to a live DJ, come by for movie nights or hold other events and celebrations.

“Why we called this the experience centre is because my wife and I believe there’s this massive consumption in society that we’re all aware of now, and … we wanted to create a place in the community where people could have something, do something and experience something and not just have to go out and spend money on garbage,” he said. “And you know, I think that was the original intent of the place, part of the original intent … We achieved it — it just didn’t get to live because of wrong timing.”

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