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Discover Squamish: Businesses that opened or expanded during uncertain pandemic times

Businesses that have opened or expanded during these extraordinary two years each have their unique stories, but they also have shared experiences of risk rewarded and dreams pursued.
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Cory Crosbie of Black Diamond Tattoo Company works on a customer. dbuzzard@mac.com davidbuzzard.com

Launching a new business — or expanding an existing one — is a leap of faith at the best of times.

Doing so amid an unprecedented global pandemic takes a special kind of brave or crazy person.

One of the easiest openings may have been Cory Crosbie’s Black Diamond Tattoo Company, which opened at the very beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

Tattoo shops require hyper-hygienic conditions always, so prepping the space for pandemic safety was easy, he said.

The Montreal native has 15 years of tattooing experience, but his technique is different from most, using “stippling,” which is more commonly called “dot work.” “Instead of dragging the needle through the skin, I physically go up and down,” he said. “It’s a technique that would have been used way back when, when no machines existed, so I’m just taking that process and speeding it up with the machine.”

Crosbie was desperate to get out of the big city and while he does ski and takes advantage of some of the other offerings in the Sea to Sky, the thing that drew him here was simple: “Just the beauty, the tranquility.”While stats are limited, more people of all ages seem to be getting skin art. “I pride myself in making the shop inviting to people of all different walks of life,” said Crosbie. “I’ve tattooed people from the late teens all the way into their 60s. It’s getting more and more accessible for everyone.”

Keep keeping on 

Like Crosbie, Jenn Foreman brought lots of experience to her new business. Unlike Crosbie, she didn’t cross the continent to do so. Foreman was born in town and has been a registered massage therapist for years. In February, she opened the doors of Anchor Health and Wellness

Opening at a possibly inauspicious time was not a huge concern for her as she views the new shop less as a new business than as a continuation of her decade-long practice.

“It felt like the right step to take,” she said. “An opportunity presented itself, and I thought I’d take the chance and give it a go, see how it turns out — and so far, so good.”

There is a lot of competition in Squamish, which has no shortage of massage therapists, yet all of them seem to be thriving, she said.“I think it’s because Squamish is a community where people are really proactive in taking care of themselves,” she said.

Foreman particularly enjoys working with people to de-stress or to address depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, as well as orthopedics, like working on sports injuries.

“That’s been my main drive with the clinic ... it’s not just for super-athletes. It’s really geared for the full population of Squamish,” she said.

Because of the pandemic

Also targeting the full spectrum of Squamish residents is the Little Bookshop, which Julie Wilkins opened not despite the pandemic but because of it. Wilkins is a brand strategist who works with large companies and, when the pandemic hit, her work slowed down.

At the same time, world events made her recognize a need for resources to talk to kids, including her own two daughters, about some of these issues.

“My best friend was having a baby with a surrogate and that was at the height of Black Lives Matter and the pandemic and all those things,” said Wilkins. “When we looked at our bookshelves, we realized that we didn’t actually have anything that would help us have those conversations. It started by me just wanting to bring those into my own home and then friends asking to borrow them.”

From there, Wilkins created the Inclusive Culture Club, which is a lending library of 250 diverse books.

Wilkins says the only new book store in town closed a decade ago

“People would ask where to buy the books and I would keep sending them out of town because we [didn’t] have a bookstore that has new books,” she said. Wilkins and her husband Paul soon retrofitted a travel trailer into what may be the world’s funkiest mobile bookshop.

“It started as a mobile [store] just out of sheer terror of opening a business during a pandemic,” she admitted. “It just seems like a less risky way to start.”

But public enthusiasm spelled success for the venture. At Christmas, they did a popup book shop and, with that additional success, they opted to open a permanent storefront.

She credits Squamish’s Commercial Vendor Program for letting not just businesses like food trucks but ventures like hers operate on city streets. This summer, the trailer will be travelling further afield, as well as popping up around town.

The Little Bookshop offers reading for all ages, but the children’s, young adults and “new adults” sections are particularly innovative. Wilkins stocks a line called A Kids Book About, which includes age-appropriate discussions of topics like cancer, anxiety, addiction and suicide.

The concept of “new adult” readers is a recent innovation in publishing. There is a big difference in maturity of a 13-year-old versus a 19-year-old (generally speaking) and so a book aimed at “young adult” readers may not be right for the full span of ages.
Even so, Wilkins acknowledges that targeting books by age is an imprecise science and she doesn’t have an easy response to parents who ask if a particular book is right for their kid.

“That’s an impossible question to answer,” she said with a laugh.

 “All I can do is say this book is rated this age and you know the themes and ... Godspeed.”

No age barriers

Something that definitely has no age barriers is ice cream. Katie Youwe and Matt Harris, partners in business and life, opened Alice + Brohm Ice Cream on Mamquam Road in 2018. Last summer, they opened a second shop downtown. Like Wilkins opening her bookshop, the ice cream company’s expansion was not despite the pandemic but, again, a direct result. Also, like the Little Bookshop,Alice + Brohm had retrofitted a travel trailer, in this case as a mobile ice cream vendor. It was popular at weddings and other big events — which suddenly went from booming business to bust in March 2020.

“The trailer just went back into the garage,” said Youwe, but demand for the product was still there and they decided that a permanent location in the heart of downtown made sense.

Harris is from New Zealand, which has a unique ice cream culture, according to Youwe. The “swirl” style of ice cream at Alice + Brohm is all about perfect simplicity, with fresh berries swirled through ice cream — prepared in a machine manufactured in New Zealand. Grab-and-go pints are available in a wider range of flavours and the team – Harris is the brains behind the flavour mashups – makes special featured flavours, such as pumpkin in autumn, chocolate Easter egg in spring or blueberry-and-basil. 

Businesses that have opened or expanded during these extraordinary two years each have their unique stories, but they also have shared experiences of risk rewarded and dreams pursued.

Together, they each also add to the ever-increasing variety of products and services available without leaving Squamish.

Please note, this story originally ran in The Squamish Chief’s biannual magazine Discover Squamish in the summer of 2022 edition.