For three years, the 500-person town of Haines Junction had no grocery store. Residents had to drive two hours to Whitehorse to shop for food. But in December, two locals broke the grocery drought. They opened a store called The Little Green Apple on December 16th, and the crowd that showed up is an indication of how much Haines Junction wanted a local grocery store.
“It was a zoo,” said Paula Pawlovich. She and her partner Bill Karman are the store’s owners. Pawlovich says an empty building next to the gas station, which they also own, was “begging” to be a grocery store.
She and Karman had no prior experience running a food store, they had to teach themselves and build the shop from scratch. They took out a loan, Pawlovich looked at products and distributers, as well as the logistics of bringing in food from Vancouver, Edmonton and Whitehorse.
“I probably have about ten different suppliers,” Pawlovich said. “It’s a very complex business.”
An added complexity comes from the kind of niche store Pawlovich wanted to create. The Little Green Apple has some mainstream products, but Pawlovich says the food skews toward organic, all-natural products.
“The store is very different than a typical grocery store. And I think people were anticipating another little highway stop, shack style, junk food, processed [food] type of store and it’s just not that. It’s a great little place where you can buy good snacks and stop and get a coffee and grab a fresh sandwich.”
Pawlovich says the set-up and feel of the store was inspired in part by Mountain Market, a natural foods store and café in Haines.
Employee Katherine MacKellar was working the cash register on a Thursday afternoon. She says she likes the atmosphere of the store and the unique foods.
“There’s a product that’s called Oogie’s and it’s gourmet popcorn, and it’s all natural, but there’s like spicy chipoltle and lime and cracked pepper and asiago and all these other cool flavors so it’s pretty nice and they’re really tasty.” she said.
MacKellar says people are grateful to have a local place where they can buy their milk, bread and gourmet popcorn.
“Everyone comes in and they’re like, ‘Oh this is beautiful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ Especially the elders and the older people because it’s harder for them to drive into town especially in winter when it’s like minus 40 [degrees.]”
Pawlovich sells locally-made baked goods and locally-grown potatoes and carrots. She hopes to sell more produce grown on Yukon farms in the summer.
One challenge they face is pricing. Pawlovich says some people complain, but there’s no way she can compete with big stores like Walmart.
Overall, Pawlovich and MacKellar say people have been happy with the store. And it’s become more than just a place to buy your lunch.
“People are coming to the grocery store and they’re visiting, which is really neat to see,” she said. “They shop and they exchange stories about what they found in the store. This one gentleman said ‘I’ve been really thinking your store and what you’ve done for the town, you’ve created a cultural revolution here!'”
Pawlovich thinks with the gas station and grocery store combined, they’re probably one of the biggest employers in Haines Junction right now. And she hopes to hire more people in the summer months.
The Little Green Apple is open Monday through Saturday from 10-6 and Sunday from noon to 5.