Board games, food and coffee remain hits at Marilyn Courtenay’s The Boarding House Café in downtown Vernon as she has successfully maintained her business through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo submitted)

Board games, food and coffee remain hits at Marilyn Courtenay’s The Boarding House Café in downtown Vernon as she has successfully maintained her business through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo submitted)

New Okanagan entrepreneurs navigate through COVID times

FILL, Vernon’s refill store, and The Boarding House Café, come up with ways to stay operational

FOR THE MORNING STAR

When Marilyn Courtenay stood on the stage and made her pitch to judges in the 2019 Enterprize Challenge, she painted a scene of The Boarding House Café: A group of 12 people surrounding a table in laughter as they played Codenames for the first time, while across the way, a professional working downtown ducked in for Marilyn’s signature scones and a latte.

“My business plan was for a board game café that was based on social interaction, getting together with people you might not know in large groups, and the closeness and camaraderie was a big part of it,” says Courtenay, who took third place in the 2019 competition that helps aspiring entrepreneurs develop a business plan and compete to win prizes to give that business a headstart.

For several of her first months in business, all of it —her cakes and brownies, the board games to play in groups — quickly became popular.

And then COVID-19 hit.

“I had to transition immediately to being a takeout baker and a board game seller. That’s what was left for me,” says Courtenay.

Even then, and once people began spending more time in shops and restaurants, business was slower, but, abiding by restrictions for restaurants, groups of six or fewer would still gather and play. The café games would be set aside for 24 hours between being played again, and each of the 350 games you can play as a patron can be reserved. Sometime between the fall and Christmas, a board game revival emerged, and games are flying off her shelves.

“Catan is always a really big one. So is Ticket to Ride. Those are the most popular but we’re bringing in a lot of games I haven’t seen anywhere else like Burgle Bros. and Magic Labyrinth. There’s actually a game called Pandemic that you just couldn’t get your hands on and it’s my third time selling out since the pandemic started,” says Courtenay who attributes the game craze to everyone “being stuck at home.” Though for now, the small groups kept two metres apart can play the board game rentals: “You might as well come and play while you can.”

In 2019, first place in the Enterprize Challenge went to Teresa Sanders and FILL, Vernon’s Refill Store. The shop, which opened at Polson Park Mall in the fall of 2019, helps people use less plastic by refilling containers of household products such as laundry soap, shampoo and hand soap.

In those first few months, a highlight for Sanders and for customers was coming to the store, pushing the mass container pumps, and feeling, firsthand, the thrill of refilling a bottle. Every so often, she’d scrawl on a chalkboard the total number of plastics saved by the FILL community (three months after opening, that number was 12,078) and customers would proudly pass that number every time they opened FILL’s door.

And then COVID-19 hit.

Sanders brought all of FILL’s products into an online store, allowing customers to select set sizes of provided glass bottles they could then receive through curbside pickup or delivery.

“We had to shift pretty quickly and it worked out really well for us,” says Sanders, who recently posted the new total of plastics saved: 74,501, and just opened another store in Kelowna with partner Gabi Dubland.

Much of that number comes from selling nearly 3,000 litres of surface and hand sanitizer, which FILL brought in after COVID struck, and which arrives in one of three drums that circles back and forth from the manufacturer so no new plastic is created.

“It’s a really nice, light, moisturizing sanitizer that doesn’t leave your hands sticky.”

FILL even went through the Health Canada process of creating a new lavender-scented hand sanitizer that’s being used throughout Predator Ridge.

Looking back on the last several months, though, Sanders says one of the brightest spots has been staying connected to the FILL community.

“Our whole store has a huge community feel to it and people were reaching out even more (through social media). I feel like that connection deepened and we could be a highlight in people’s day when we did see them.”

READ MORE: New Vernon business takes home Enterprize Challenge award

READ MORE: Enterprize Challenge winners announced



roger@vernonmorningstar.com

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Teresa Sanders of FILL, Vernon’s Refill Store, has managed to successfully navigate her new business through the pandemic. (Photo submitted)

Teresa Sanders of FILL, Vernon’s Refill Store, has managed to successfully navigate her new business through the pandemic. (Photo submitted)

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