River 35 -- Grand Openings

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By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric

Chapter 35 – Grand Openings

So far: Word about the gold rush is on, and big companies wanting a piece of the action were surprised and upset when they couldn’t convince the band to give up a share, in return for ruining the environment and rerouting the river. And Mark was taught an interesting lesson.

The months of September and October brought changes to St. Mary’s. In the last week of September, the Ojibwe Co-operative had its grand opening. The store had been open for weeks – they had even made the odd sale from the store while it was still being stocked, and online sales had started as soon as the web pages were up, and still comprised 70 percent of the store sales.

The biggest day for the retail store was in early September, when Connie was surprised to find one woman buying over $15,000 worth of goods. She was setting up a new home in the town, and needed to decorate it, and fell in love with the idea of using a First Nations theme. She bought several of the paintings by Carl Bluelake as well as five prints of April Audette’s photography. She said that she was getting in two First Nations boarders, and bought dreamcatchers for each of their rooms, as well as for her and her daughter.

She bought a large number of native blankets, both for the beds in the house, and as decorations in the living room. A large painted ceremonial drum was going to be the focal point of that room. It was only later that Connie learned that the woman was Dawn Winter, who River had cured of cancer and invited to move into the community. The one thing that Connie noted was that she didn’t haggle over money like most purchasers did. They all wanted 25 percent off on a $50 dreamcatcher, but Dawn was happy to pay full list price on everything. Connie had to convince her that the 10 percent discount she was given on her huge purchase was appropriate.

This set Connie’s goals for the grand opening. She wanted to reach that $15,000 level on each of the three days of the sale, which was going to run for three days, from Friday to Sunday.

She planned on some of the traditional retail gimmicks for the sale. There would be balloons all over the place, both in the store and to give out to kids. Most goods were sale priced with a 20 to 30 percent discount, depending on what the craftspeople felt like offering. Advertising opportunities were limited in the north, but ads ran on Thunder Bay radio, as well as a full-page ad in the little weekly newspaper in Terrace Bay. There was a single page flyer printed out in the Terrace Bay print shop, and mailed to every home in St. Mary’s. At River’s insistence, it was bilingual, with English on one side, and Ojibwe on the other.

River also came up with ideas of her own. The sweet corn season was still on in northern Ontario, so she arranged to buy several pickup truckloads of corn from farmers in the area. A massive pot of boiling water was prepared, and another smaller pot of melted butter was used for dipping the corn in. Every visitor to the sale got free corn, with a bonus. River had gotten many of the reserve teens making souvenir corn holders out of leather with traditional Ojibwe designs branded into one side, and the store website on the other. These were small tabs of leather that had a small wire (surplus from Kyle and George’s collection) poked into it. A pair of these would be poked into either end of a corn cob, making eating the sweet sensations easier than without.

The high school spirit squad was in charge of the corn roast, with the store paying them a large donation in return for the work they did. The 10 girls each brought in one friend, and between the 20 they were able to cover all 30 hours of the sale. Carla was the main contact between the spirit squad and the store, and as a result her status within the group shot up. No grade nine member had ever brought in such a large donation, nor run such a large project. Even the girl who questioned “letting an Indian join” was won over, and over the rest of the year she became a close friend of Carla and Liesl. Of course, Luv was part of the attraction for the girl, who loved being able to see the baby.

River also came up with the idea of having a full pow-wow during the grand opening. On Saturday there was a local pow-wow, with singers and dancers from the reserve, including the other reserves that had sent students to the high school. On Sunday there was a huge regional pow-wow, with cash prizes enticing performers from three or four hours away. It was the largest pow-wow in northern Ontario that year, since there was a lot of buzz about the things happening with the river, causing many First Nations peoples to want to see what was going on.

There were so many in the area on the Sunday that River’s ceremony that morning had to be held twice, and the early one, which most of the locals attended, was so large that for the first time people had to take the bridge to the other side, and stand on both sides of the river to be able to participate. As well, after the pow-wow ended, River had another ceremony in the river where the people were able to learn the language and history of the people.

There was a twist this time. Many of the visitors were Cree, Odawa, Potawatomi or other peoples, and when River sang the songs, these people heard their local history, and learned their own language.

At the end of the three days, Connie totaled the sales figures, and came up with $15,500 on Friday, $21,500 on Saturday, and $15,800 on Sunday, which had shorter hours than Saturday, but higher sales per hour with all the pow-wow visitors. The store didn’t make much money on the event, but it broke even and got the store known. Dozens of new craftspeople wanted to participate, and Connie had to promise that Colin would post a form on the website to let people know how to do it. She just didn’t have the time to sign up people on the spot.


Two weeks later there was another grand opening. On October 6 the second deer hunting season started, and Dale’s men finished the first house before taking their six days off. There was some stonework still to be done on the fireplace, but Chip and his crew agreed to work through the hunting season and finished it on the Wednesday at noon.

On Thursday there was a party in the house. Not a planned one. But almost every family on the reserve came to an impromptu housewarming. Each brought a dish for a potluck supper for the family, and almost all had a gift for River, Alison, or Mark (usually camping or hunting gear for him). People wanted to see the beautiful new house that they had watched under construction, and used the idea of a party as a way in. Most stayed for a half hour or so, giving their gift, eating a bit, and then heading off to make room for others. A few stayed throughout, but generally these people were ones who looked after the food or cleaning up, or providing music.

River was thrilled that the event stayed alcohol-free. She was happy that people were learning that they could have a good time without drinking. A traditional punch that the river had provided (well, it provided the icy water, as well as the recipe for flavoring with other local ingredients) was served, and most loved it. Promises to spread the recipe had to be made to many.

River had many of her friends from school there, and they all marveled at the house. The living room was impressive. It had a cathedral ceiling with massive pine timbers holding up the sharply pitched roof. One entire wall was a beautiful fireplace, comprised of the finest Canadian Shield stonework, soaring up to a seven-foot wide chimney at the top.

Behind were the modern, stainless steel kitchen and a formal dining room that could easily sit 12. A den was at the back, and a huge deck that looked out over the woods behind, and the river, visible through breaks in the trees. River and her friends stood on the deck, and Carla pointed: “Look, even the animals have come to your party.” It was true. There were five or six deer at the edge of the woods, looking at the girls looking at them.

“Smart deer,” River said. “The hunt is on, and they have found a safe place to hide from the hunters. No one would be foolish enough to fire a rifle so close to people.”

The upstairs to the house had four bedrooms. There was an en-suite in the master bedroom, which had a balcony that overlooked the great room. River’s and the guest bedrooms also overlooked the great room. River had a walk-in closet, not as large as her mother’s, but plenty large for someone who had lived in a tent for two months.

Mark also had a bedroom on the second floor, and in the back, next to the second bathroom, but he had staked claim to the basement, and convinced his father to build him a bedroom and three-piece bath down there. The recreation room that would be built later was also in the basement. Even so there was a ping-pong table in the unfinished room already.

“You totally need to get a Rube Goldberg machine down here,” Liesl gushed, seeing the great open space. “That would be so cool.”

“Yeah, and then I’d have every kid on the reserve wanting to come in to play it,” River laughed.

“Totally,” Liesl said, not seeing any problems with that idea.


The next opening was another two weeks later when the ATM arrived for the credit union. It was installed in its corner of the store, along with the two teller stations. Only one teller had been hired for the place, and she had started two weeks earlier, with Alison teaching her. The second station would allow Alison to help out if the branch got busy. Most of the activity at the branch would occur at the ATM, taking deposits and dispensing cash. But during the opening week the two women had a steady line of people wanting to make deposits and open accounts.

The safe had been delivered and installed a week earlier. It was in the enclosed area behind the ATM and provided security for the cash held at the branch. There were also 50 storage boxes, and people wanting to keep their valuables secure, but closer to home, quickly snapped these up.

It took almost five minutes to open a new account, and Alison and Gayle averaged 20 per hour. The credit union hours would be 9 to 4, with the staff working an hour later to balance accounts, but during opening week they were open from 9 to 9. The idea was that each woman would get an hour break during the day, but that didn’t happen. Five or 10 minutes to wolf down a sandwich was all either took.

There were lines all five days, and Alison even tried to limit it, by announcing that children’s accounts would not be accepted until the next week. But teens and adults opened over 1000 accounts, with almost everyone in town spending their $25 to become a member. Most people deposited several hundred dollars, and Alison had forms printed out to allow welfare checks to be direct-deposited.

There were a few bigger deposits, put into investment funds managed by the credit union. The band deposited $5 million in a term account, and Nick and Dale both deposited the proceeds of their million-dollar house transactions from Toronto. The one that surprised Alison most was the $25 million that Dawn Winter deposited. What was surprising was that she said she would consider moving the rest of her money at a later date. Apparently her book series was quite lucrative.


A few weeks later there was another housewarming. This time it was Nick and Marilyn’s house. This was as big as the Waters’ house, but different in many respects. It also had the great room with the beamed ceiling, but in their case the fireplace was smaller, although still impressive. Marilyn had chosen black appliances for her kitchen, and there was also a playroom for Luv on the ground floor. Upstairs had a master suite similar to the other house, but five smaller bedrooms. Marilyn was determined to have as large a family as possible.

This time the housewarming was smaller. Many people had already seen one of the new houses, and didn’t feel the need to see another. It was mainly friends and families of the homeowners who came, which were still over 100 people. River was happy that another event went alcohol free. Nelson Churchill might complain, but she didn’t. In fact, Connie said Nelson had his best month ever during the grand opening of the co-op. Not selling beer, but selling fine cigars to the many visitors.


Earlier in October River had been in the store, where some of the other girls from the high school were in looking over the clothes. They bemoaned the lack of selection to Darrin Hooper, the friendly shop owner.

“Sorry girls,” he said. “But there is a limited market in a small town like this and I just can’t afford to get in trendy clothes like the shops in the city malls do. My dealers carry them, but I’d have to get in a variety of sizes, and then it is possible that the girl who likes one style won’t be the right size.”

“Do your suppliers have catalogs?” River asked.

“Oh I get them constantly,” Darrin said. “I have a pile of them right over here.” He tossed a pile of catalogs on the counter, and the other girls jumped at them, aahing and oohing over the clothes shown. River didn’t join in. She was happy with her traditional native clothes, but she was starting to get an idea.

“Mr. Hooper, do you need these catalogs?”

“Not really, why?”

“I was just thinking. What if we took those to school, and showed them around to all the girls in the school. There are almost 100 girls. Each girl will pick out three outfits, and then we will bring back the catalogs and you can get prices for what each outfit would cost. Each girl will pick one of their three, and put down a 10 percent deposit on it. We could have a fashion show at school, with everyone showing off their outfit. If the girl likes it, she buys it. The girls boarding all get a clothing allowance of $150 for the year, and most don’t get a chance to go to the city to spend it.”

“It sounds interesting,” Mr. Hooper said. “What if the student doesn’t like it?”

“Well, I guess you would have some stock for your racks here then, but I suspect most would buy. I mean, they picked the style, it is in their size, and most kids have a budget for buying clothes, and no place to get them around here. The store in Terrace Bay is no better than here.”

“Oh, River, that is a great idea,” one of the girls squealed. “I would love to be in a fashion show. Plus getting some cool outfits.” The other girls all agreed.

“Well, I think we have a plan,” Mr. Hooper said. “Here are some more catalogs, including a couple of shoe ones I never order from. All the prices in the catalog are suggested retail prices, and for this event I can offer 40% off, which lowers them to a sale price level. Take the books to school and let me know in a week or two what you want. I will have to order soon to get them in for, say, mid-November.”

“Great. Let’s plan the fashion show for November 17. We can charge $5 each for people to come and watch, with the money going to the Student Council.”

“We have to pay $5 to be in the show?” one of the girls asked.

“No,” River answered. “You get in free if you are in the show. But if you aren’t wearing an outfit, then you have to pay.”

The excitement at the school was just as high when the girls explained the plan the next day. By the end of the week girls were coming in to the store to put down their deposits. Most ordered one full outfit, with a few deciding to buy all three of their choices, and decide later which to wear in the show. In the end the store ordered 107 outfits at an average cost of $120. As well 22 pairs of shoes were ordered, at about $75 each. Mr. Hooper grossed almost $15,000 during the month, the most he had ever done in fashion by a 10:1 ratio.

The carpentry class in the high school built a runway for the models to walk down, and over 500 people attended the show, bringing in another $2500 for the student council. The spirit squad had a bake sale and sold lemonade during the event, and they also raised an additional $1000 for their group, although it took some coordination, since the girls on the squad were also in the show.

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