A new business in a familiar building will open early this month after almost three years of determined effort by its owners.
The Caribou Centre is the result of co-owners Kelly and Tara Schofield’s vision for the building.
“Basically everyone in town knows that building as the Caribou, so all we’ve done is added centre at the back of it,” said Kelly Schofield. “It’s the Caribou Centre. Why fight with Hay River, right? That’s just the way it is. Everybody will call it the Caribou, much like everyone calls Chamber Park the Caboose.”
The Caribou Centre actually does fit the concept of a centre in that it contains not one business, but several.
There’s the restaurant Wilderness Bistro and Deli, and the hairstyling/tanning salon Sheer Madness in space leased by two tenants
Plus, the Schofields will operate a laundromat, a conference room and a fitness centre. They also have an arrangement with a High Level, Alta., company to offer dry cleaning services.
Kelly said he and his wife wanted to gear whatever went into the Caribou Centre to complement their 27-room North Country Inn next door, and offer services to their guests – a place to wash clothes, get a haircut, eat, work out and meet.
“These are the five things that we tried to get for them,” he said.
Everything will be ready for the opening, except for the fitness centre. That is still to be filled with exercise equipment.
“It’s good for another 40 to 50 years,” said Kelly of the building constructed in the early ’70s. “We brought it back to life.”
While the Caribou Centre now looks new, this was not the case three years ago when the Schofields bought the building.
“It has been a long road, a steep learning curve, lots of frustration,” said Kelly.
“I’m just grateful that the project is almost near completion. I’m just like phew,” said his wife, Tara, adding there’s been a lot of tears on her part along the way.
Their original idea for the building was to simply make the washrooms and the entry to the restaurant wheelchair accessible, and then lease the restaurant space and lounge space, and perhaps eventually eliminate the bar next to the hotel.
However, those plans were put on hold when the walls were opened only to discover mould and rotten wood.
“So we decided, ‘OK, let’s go a little bit further until we find the end of these problems and we’ll just fix it all,” Kelly said. “Well, the whole building was like that. There was mould everywhere, rotten wood everywhere.”
And there were also leaks, electrical issues and more.
“It was just a nightmare going in, it really was,” said Kelly. “It wasn’t what we expected, at all.”
The condition of the building was also a surprise to the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, which had provided funding for the purchase.
“But with every surprise, we just put our head down and struggled on,” said Kelly. “That’s all we could do.”
In the spring of 2013, he started gutting the building, and hired Yellowknife’s New Age Construction a year ago to do the renovations.
“We knew that we had to do something and we knew that we had to do something pretty drastic to bring that building back to life and to make money, because this has been a huge investment,” said Kelly.
Now the end is in sight, and finishing touches are being made to the renovations.
“The cake is baked,” said Kelly. “It’s just the icing that’s going on now.”
No date has yet been set for the grand opening.
“That’s one thing that we’ve learned, too,” said Tara. “Never really have a deadline. It’s just no good. You just go with it.”
She said it will be good to open a new business in town.
“We love Hay River. Hay River is home,” she said. “We’re excited to take something that was really jalopy and bring it back to life.”
The new business is already attracting attention, as people stop to look inside.
Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard welcomes the Caribou Centre.
“It’s great to see a new business,” Bouchard said.
During a visit to Hay River last week, Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister David Ramsay took a walk around the Caribou Centre, which was appropriate since the department loaned money to the Schofields for the renovations.
Despite the trials of the past three years, the Schofields are now setting their sights on renovating their now-closed Migrator Inn in time for the Arctic Winter Games in 2018.
“We need to have that building upgraded and renovated before Arctic Winter Games, said Kelly. “That’s our goal.”
The 24-room Migrator Inn was closed four years ago because of excessive heating costs.
Kelly Schofield is confident it can be renovated.
“It’s going to be a really nice building when we’re done,” he said. “We already have the vision.”
— Paul Bickford