Closing down one of Terrace’s biggest stores is never easy but for owner Glen Saunders, the decision to shut the door of Flying Fish at Skeena Landing came as a simple decision.
Driving in his car one day, feeling hurried to get orders in and items moving for his business, he let his thoughts carry him into a life where he wasn’t feeling so overwhelmed. He imagined more hours to himself, being able to freely decide what to do with his time.
“It just hit me one day that I don’t need to be doing all of this forever, and that my work-life balance wasn’t very good,” says Saunders. “I just felt like a hamster on the wheel and that a couple of things were falling off my plate, I just wasn’t doing the job that I wanted to do.”
Giving two weeks to talk himself out of it, he realized taking a step back from the store could finally fulfill that vision of leading a less stressful and more meaningful life after 30 years of business.
In 1986, Saunders moved to Terrace from Nanaimo. He came up with plenty of responsibilities to keep him busy as he was helping with his family’s logging business and had relocated north to help with the expansion. Having to suddenly fill a job position, he was forced to reroot his life and call the Northwest home.
“I wasn’t planning it, I had a pretty nice life down on the island. I just finished building myself a home and so this was a bit of a shock,” Saunders reflects. “It was just busy, busy, busy. I worked long hours, you can distract yourself that way.”
Although he enjoyed running the company and still remains a part owner of it, he wanted a business where he could socialize with customers and to transform a place into something memorable. Seeing the potential in the area, he kept an eye out.
Coming across an old vacant building in Terrace, Saunders decided to renovate it and open up a store that carried unique kitchenware and other items that generally would only be found at a trendy store in the city.
“There was this house on Keith Avenue and it was really run down, but I thought that’d it be a good location for a store,” says Saunders. “I went to the owner of the building and made him an offer… we moved in there in May of 1990.”
Initially naming it Kermode Trading, its bright yellow paint had everyone calling it by its colour so he eventually rebranded it to the Yellow House.
Shortly after, in 1991, he visited Prince Rupert and saw another empty building for sale in Cow Bay. With the popularity of his Terrace store, Saunders thought he could renovate the building to offer Ruperites a similar shopping experience.
But when he called around, it turned out someone had already placed an offer on the building. Saunders told the property owner that if the deal fell through, to contact him immediately.
A few months later, he got that lucky call and opened Cow Bay Gift Gallery. Eventually, he relocated his businesses across the street and turned over that building to someone who wanted to introduce a coffee house with character into the area — Cowpuccino’s.
“It just was the right time for him, he needed to keep things going and I don’t like to sell things but eventually, it’s got to have legs for somebody else,” he says. “The building across the street was really derelict and an opportunity came up to buy that, so I bought that and refurbished it, cutting it up into multiple spaces.”
Running it for years, he made efforts to make the area around his store more attractive too — not only for locals, but to increase tourism as well.
Saunders was the chair of the Terrace tourism board and Northern B.C. Tourism to collaborate on various initiatives to encourage people to visit the area. He also sat as the chair on the Terrace Concert Society, wanting to bring more talent and shows to town.
“I’ve tried to always do some community work as well…. we were just selling what this community really is, along with the camping, fishing, the skiing, the backcountry touring,” Saunders explains.
“And bringing concerts in, it’s like just because you live in the North shouldn’t mean that you can’t have things like that so we just wanted to provide good entertainment within the community.”
After soon establishing a store called Flying Fish in his home town of Nanaimo, currently run by a family member of his. His Yellow House store back in Terrace continued to grow more popular and seeking the need for a bigger space, Saunders found the perfect fit at the corner industrial lot at Highway 16 and 37, renaming the structure there as Skeena Landing.
“We doubled the size of that [first] store, we added an extra 840 square feet onto that but it always felt too small,” he says. “It was called Motz Industrial Plaza before I bought it and I wanted to gentrify it more and make it more of a shopping plaza… this really gave us a great creative outlet.”
He purchased the entire property, making room for his store and given that it was no longer housed in a yellow building, renamed it Flying Fish after his Nanaimo location. He renovated all the spaces, renting them out to business tenants and even took over the lodge that’s still in operation.
In 2011, Saunders began working on a new project repainting buildings throughout Prince Rupert to beautify the town. After bringing life to more than 30 businesses and seeing how much all the colours made a difference, he wanted to take it to another notch.
Reconnecting with local artist Jeff King from Nanaimo who specialized in wildlife paintings and had a few murals on Vancouver Island, Saunders convinced him to come up and spruce up Print Rupert with his art.
Many people came to offer a helping hand to put up the picturesque and noticeable murals that have become a notable attraction throughout town, which revived Saunders community spirit and reminded him why he was so dedicated to his work.
“That was one of my crutches for during a tough time in my life,” he says. “When you do something for others, it helps you focus forward and put a positive spin on it all.”
Although his life will still be kept busy between Terrace and Prince Rupert, Saunders says he looks forward to focusing his attention back onto his hometown Nanaimo where he runs a homestead decorated with bountiful produce, such as lemon and lime trees.
Saunders says he’s been fortunate to have great employees throughout the years that have made his businesses enjoyable to run. He knows that without their help and enthusiasm, he wouldn’t be able to do it for so long.
But after working through family dinners, weekends and holidays, Saunders has also realized how important his family is to him and that he wants to redirect his energy to spend more time with them.
“It was the biggest store, out of all of our stores, and it required a lot of time,” he says. “But we’ve got some family on Vancouver Island around that we want to spend more time helping out.”
Closing down the store after 30 years is emotional, but Saunders says he knows that Terrace has a lot of great entrepreneurs that will follow-up with something great in that space.
It was just his time to pass the torch.