In challenging times, North Vancouver businesses have proven to be resilient, innovative, and overwhelmingly inspirational.
To shine a light on some of the many businesses that have kept thriving and gone the extra mile to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic, the North Vancouver Chamber initiated a new awards series.
The COVID-19 Local Leaders Awards recognized 12 businesses for demonstrating initiative, community support and local leadership during difficult times. Businesses in the lineup were highlighted for pivoting to new ventures, producing hand sanitizer, seamless transitions to online services, and simply just lending a helping hand to others, among other reasons.
One business that truly got into the spirit of helping the community was Sons of Vancouver Distillery. Co-owners James Lester and Richard Klaus were awarded the Young Business Leader Award for recognizing and helping to address a shortage of hand sanitizer in North Vancouver when the virus first hit hard back in March.
When the restaurant and bar scene shut down, the duo was inspired by distilleries across Canada producing their own sanitizers and set out to do the same. After some quick footwork by the attorney general to allow distilleries to produce sanitation-grade alcohol, Sons of Vancouver began making litres of hand sanitizer and giving it away for free.
“It’s a very unconventional business to get into, certainly; nobody wants to stop making whisky to start making hand sanitizer, but it was the thing that really saved us earlier in the year,” Lester said.
“Because bars and restaurants had closed, our normal sales went to nothing and a really great side effect of giving away sanitizer was that people came to the distillery and bought things, and that kept us open.”
They also partnered with grocers to sell hand sanitizer to raise money for Lions Gate Hospital and donated thousands of litres to charities, shelters, childcare facilities, and health-care providers.
Looking back, Lester described the experience as “super overwhelming.”
“It was nice to be able to do something, but it was so tough to hear everyone’s unique stories,” he said, noting it was especially hard to hear of seniors who were unable to gain access to sanitizers and other products at the time.
“We were happy to be helping.”
Lester said while it was always nice to be appreciated for their efforts with an award, his heart was still going out to community members and businesses during this tough time.
He encouraged everyone to keep “thinking outside of the box.”
One of the big innovators to do just that was special effects company Thomas FX Group Inc., which pivoted from making artificial products like snow, ash, and dust for film sets to focusing on how to sanitize. The company, owned by husband and wife team John Quee and Betty Thomas Quee, started with adapting their fog machines by adding sanitizing liquid, then graduated to UV sanitizing and becoming a distributor for Biotech UV. The UV technology uses a high-frequency light wavelength to kill bacteria, germs, and viruses like COVID-19, allowing businesses to sanitize and clean large areas easily.
Quee said he began looking for ways he could reopen the business safely after the film industry locked down March 13 and stumbled across Biotech UV online.
“It jumped right off the screen at me,” he said.
“We contacted the owner of the company and he happened to be looking for a distributor for Canada, so within 24 hours we became the exclusive distributors for Canada and Europe.”
While the Biotech UV technology is now selling like hotcakes, Quee said it was never about the money.
“This is about saving lives and creating something that gives people the confidence to reopen their businesses safely, go into public venues, or get back to their jobs,” he said.
Having spent the past 52 years creating environmentally friendly materials for the film industry, Quee maintained that the company’s continued success came down to building trust in both products and service. He said the company, which has even created an artificial dust to stop Tom Cruise from sneezing on the set of The Mummy, always went “above and beyond.”
“Always take the extra step, go the extra mile,” Quee said. The company took home the Innovation-Switching Gears Award for their quick solution, which is now helping businesses stay virus free across Canada.
Patrick Stafford-Smith, chamber CEO, said it was heartening to see the creativity and passion with which people had directed their efforts.
“We have a smart bunch of business owners here and they’re coming up with some interesting solutions," he said.
"We wanted to put a spotlight on those who are doing good things to give some inspiration to those who are maybe feeling a little hesitant as they’re looking at how their situation is right now. I think any one of the winners stands out.”
He encouraged business owners to, “try to find a positive point of view and see what they can do as opposed to focusing on what they can’t do.”
“You don’t have to work alone through the challenges,” Stafford-Smith said.
“We hope they [business owners] will reach out for help.”
Award of Excellence- Londsdale Quay Hotel
Hotel Manger Farah Steen and her team were recognised for going above and beyond to help the community, providing rooms at cost to Vancouver Coastal Health and Lions Gate Hospital Foundation, offering free meals, supporting health care workers with special rates, investing in virus safety equipment, and offering affordable rates to the community during and after self-isolation.
Community Leadership Award - Twin Lions Contracting
The team at Twin Lions Contracting was awarded for helping to repair the North Shore Women’s Centre, during an early phase of COVID, donating countless hours of time to provide insight, advice, share resources and do voluntary service work.
Young Business Leader Award – Sons of Vancouver Distillery
Co-owners James Lester and Richard Klaus were awarded for recognizing and helping to address a shortage of hand sanitizer in North Vancouver when the virus first hit hard back in March. They handed the sanitizer out for free to anyone who needed it.
Inspiration Award- Zen Maker Lab
The educational business, teaching kids and adults about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) was awarded for their continued exceptional customer service throughout the pandemic and made a seamless transition to online classes – even creating a new free online learning tool called DesignMakePlay.
Innovation-Switching Gears Award – Thomas FX Group Inc.
Thomas FX Group Inc. pivoted from making artificial products like snow, ash, and dust for film sets to focusing on how to sanitize. The company, owned by husband and wife team John Quee and Betty Thomas Quee, started with adapting their fog machines by adding sanitizing liquid, then graduated to UV sanitizing becoming a distributor for Biotech UV.
Service Excellence Award- Live Well Exercise Clinic
The clinic was highlighted for rapidly transitioning to online training to keep contact with their clients and to ensure that they didn’t reverse the progress they had made.
Method Indoor Cycling, Evergreen Computers, Harbour West Consulting, Larry’s Market, Pocean, and Ellison Travel and Tours.
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.