Jade Fahie, Jeannie Watson, Jen Wood, Jillian Rutherford, Jackie Graham, Louise Ferguson, Barrie Elliott, Vanessa Avery-Willems, Chelsea Tough, Alicia Dennis, Stephanie Fleming, and Julie Comete are all part of the changing face of First Avenue. Paige Mueller/The Free Press

The changing face of First Avenue

A group of entrepreneurial women are helping to revitalize First Avenue in Fernie

What used to be a dark, quiet street hardly visited by locals and tourists has undergone a drastic revitalization in the past few years, thanks in large part to a group of intrepid female entrepreneurs.

First Avenue used to closely resemble a back alley with not too much to lure people off the more popular Second Avenue. A few years ago, that all started to change. Now, the street is almost unrecognizable, with a plethora of exciting businesses that constantly attract locals and visitors.

The newly revitalized strip between the Fernie Hotel and GearHub Sports now features many businesses that represent a wide variety of industries. Everything from food and beverage, to health and wellness and even entertainment and arts is represented on the three block strip.

Stephanie Fleming is the owner, manager and everything in between of Infinitea T-Bar. She likes being located off of main street, saying that it attracts a different type of customer.

“I like being on First Ave because it attracts a different clientele who are looking for something different,” she said. “It takes an adventurous, inquisitive and creative person to venture off the main drag and into the unknown.”

While that sentiment is no doubt true for customers and clients in the area, it also takes a certain type of business person, or business woman in this case, to succeed away from main street. Almost every single business that exists on First Avenue is owned or managed by a woman.

At a gathering of the impressive business women of First Avenue, there was one sentiment that was present across the board. Everyone located on the street loves the community spirit that exists between business owners. They feel supported and championed to do better by the other women around them.

Several of the women interviewed said one of the best parts about being part of the First Avenue business community is running into each other on the street and being able to share stories and swap advice. Louise Ferguson is the executive director of the Fernie and District Arts Council and The Arts Station. She added that everyone is very open to working together, which is a huge plus for businesses and nonprofits alike.

“Everyone is so open to working together and supporting one another,” she noted. “An example of this was last summer. When the Wednesday Socials got rained out, with support from The Legion we were able to go ahead with the events inside.”

Several of the women interviewed said that programming at The Arts Station, such as the Wednesday Socials, has had a huge impact on the community at large.

“First Ave has become a more active and populated space in general,” said Jackie Graham, program officer with the Fernie and District Arts Council. “Increased programming at The Arts Station, renovation and revitalization of The Legion and the new Fernie Distillers has made First Avenue a fun, community driven space.”

Fernie Hotel manager Alicia Dennis agreed, adding that between the Wednesday Socials, the events in Station Square and more businesses popping up in the area, people are being drawn to something different. She also noted that one of the reasons she has liked being on First Avenue for the last 11 years is that “you have to go out of your way to come to us which means we must be doing something right.”

As more and more people are drawn to First Avenue businesses, the area continues to evolve and change into a beautiful space. The women interviewed said they notice more people walking and biking in the area, not just parking their cars and heading straight for Second Avenue.

“I have watched this avenue change and grow over the 10 years that I have lived in Fernie,” said Jen Wood, manager of Fernie Distillers. “It is so nice to see it coming to life with so many amazing women owned and operated businesses.”

Many of the women had advice and words of wisdom for other young women looking to set up shop in Fernie. Julie Comete, owner and operator of The Royal Bar, had some poignant advice for aspiring business women in the Elk Valley.

“I would say to follow your dreams, don’t be afraid to give it a shot, do your research, keep smiling and mostly have fun. It’s not worth doing if it’s not fun.”

As First Avenue continues to grow and evolve, we’ll be looking to our female business leaders on ways to innovate and move forward in a community focused way.


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