The Bon Marche on Broadway is the go-to place for most household items you can think of. The shelves and hooks are packed with pretty much anything you might need to set up a new home, and mostly at a very good price.
When I met to chat with Val Hill (neé Hurry), she led me past the fabrics and through a small gate into the back of the building. Suddenly I was no longer in the store packed full of merchandise, I was in a granny’s kitchen. Literally.
Straight out of the 60s, the kitchen was furnished with a stylish grey Formica table flanked by orange and chrome chairs. The matching wallpaper was grey, festooned with a vague orange still life print, and the only things that disturbed the retro feel were a microwave and an electric kettle.
These days the kitchen serves as the staff room for the Bon Marche, but it was in fact part of Val’s grandmother Flo’s apartment when she was running the business as a clothing store. When her grandpa Peter injured his leg at the mill in 1947, Flo quit teaching and ran the Bon Marche. Val’s grandmother Flo lived until the ripe old age of 103, with many of those years in that very building.
Looking into what was once the living room, I see boxes of stock, which is what fills the old apartment now.
“There’s more stock upstairs,” Val told me, catching me peering into the former living room.
Just as she spoke, a strange noise came out of nowhere. It was the alert for the front door of the shop.
“I know,” she said, looking at the bewildered expression on my face, “It sounds like a demented robotic bird.”
Currently, statistics show that only 35 per cent of B.C. businesses are owned and operated by women. The Hurry family in Nakusp has been ahead of the curve for generations, with the Bon Marche having been run by three generations of Hurry women.
Val, who owns and runs the store with her husband Todd, has seen the store adjust to accommodate the changing economy since the time of her great-grandmother.
When her parents took over operations in 1982, they still sold children’s wear as well as fabrics and other sewing notions. Responding to changes in the economy in the 90s, her parents met up with a man who set up dollar stores and reconfigured the store completely. Taking the risk paid off.
“The community really supported it,” said Val, even though she did note that, “There are still a lot of people who shop out of town.”
The dollar store idea is still working, although she has noticed definite changes in the past two years with the flagging economy. Still, the Bon Marche continues to be successful enough to allow her family to remain in Nakusp.
The move back to the Kootenays was a conscious one for Val and Todd. They had moved to Kelowna for work, but work is what kept them apart rather than giving them family time together.
“I was working evenings, and Todd worked days,” she recounted, “We never had family dinners.”
In July 2003, the pair took over the Bon Marche and have been enjoying it ever since.
Working with the public is what Val loves about the place. Particularly in the summer, when there are people who come from all over the world to visit the Arrow Lakes.
Val is lucky enough to live here, and she knows it. When I ask her if she ever considers moving anywhere else, her answer is simple.
“Nope,” she said, and her description of the commute to work says it all, “When I come down 4th to work, I can see the lake and the sun and the mountains. There’s hardly any traffic and it takes me maybe ten minutes.”