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'It's been my life here'

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 1, 2012

Almost 40 years ago a young Barry Neary rolled into Yellowknife in a muddy station wagon with no job and no place to stay.

The 19-year-old had come from Ontario, hoping to make some money to get him through university.

"I remember liking (Yellowknife) right away because everybody was just friendly and welcoming," Neary said. "It's been my life here."

Over the years, Neary said things have changed as the city has grown and new people and businesses have come in. Some changes have been for the worse, while others are for the better, he said.

When Neary first showed up in Yellowknife, he said, people were scrambling to find places to live because of the housing shortage. He said he remembers going into the old Yellowknifer office trying to get a look at the classifieds.

"You would go into that old building there and of course they were all long-haired hippie types in there with Mike Scott and they were all on typewriters instead of computers, clacking away," said Neary said.

"So you would go in and try and find out before publication who was going to list what apartment or house for rent."

Neary ended up packed into a one-bedroom basement apartment with the four guys he came up with because it was all they could find.

"Before, you would go around knocking on landlords' doors trying to see if they would even consider but there was just nothing. Now there is something but you just got to pay," he said.

After a little while Neary managed to get a job at Akaitcho Hall as a dormitory supervisor from September to June, which allowed him to save some money to pay for his summer sessions at The University of Western Ontario.

On his days off from work, Neary said, he could usually be found at The Gallery bar, which used to sit on Franklin Avenue near the Capitol Theatre. It was quite a popular place and likely The Black Knight of its time, Neary said.

"I probably spent most of my 20s in The Gallery," he said, adding it was always full of young people, everyone was very welcoming and it was easy to make friends.

"(The community) is what keeps people here, I think."

Neary has had a number of jobs since he came to the city in 1975.

He worked as an accounting supervisor at Con Mine, a business manager at the old Stanton Hospital and more recently he got into retail. Neary started off as manager of the Gourmet Cup and at a gift and ladies wear shop called Forget Me Nots. Eventually, he sold and closed those stores. Then in 1997 he started For Men Only and in 2010 he bought Flowers North. Neary said he's seen a lot change in the city's business landscape since then. As Yellowknife has gotten larger, big box stores, such as Wal-mart and Canadian Tire, have started to pop up, he said.

"I think it's made it more challenging for more independent operators like myself. You have to be more specialized and niche all the time," he said.

But Neary won't have to worry about that much longer. In another three years, he said, he expects to retire and move to B.C. For Men Only will be passed to his two nieces Andrea Thivierge, 25, and Chantelle Thivierge, 27. Tracy Heslep will take over Flowers North.

"That next generation of Yellowknife retailers will be taking over, I've always seen that as part of what I've been doing. Over the years as you employ people you are very much mentoring them as well, teaching them what you know," he said.

"I feel good about that, that I will be leaving and the stores will continue."

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