One of the longest-standing downtown businesses is Whitecourt Stationary which first started in 1978. "My Dad worked in the oil business, and he was being transferred to Calgary. My Mom was adamant that she was not leaving Whitecourt. So, my Dad went out and got another job in town," explained Joanne Deane, current co-owner, along with her husband, Alan.
"My Mom said since they were staying that she needed to do something. She originally wanted to open a small bookstore, but it was too complicated at the time, so she said that the second best thing was to open a stationery store." Deane said her Mom approached the owner of a graphics store, then located across the street from Whitecourt Stationary's current location, and asked if she could sell some stationery items in his shop. "He said sure, and it grew from there."
Eventually, her Mom needed more space. "When it moved to where we are now, there was a clothing store sharing the space, and there were partitions down the middle. Then, as we needed space, we just took over," explained Deane.
Growing up in a family-owned business, Deane said her goal wasn't to take over one day, but that fate had other plans. "I was living away from home, and my Mom got cancer, and we came back. My husband, Alan, got a job teaching here, and we started having babies, so I started working at the store part-time. Us taking over just evolved from that."
As a young adult, stationery supplies were never supposed to be on the menu. "I wasn't coming back here to own an office supply store, no way," laughed Deane. "But it's been great! I wouldn't change a thing. Fate has control over some things. When you look back on it, it's really cool to know that my Mom was the brainchild of the operation."
Sadly, her Mom passed away in 1991, and Deane and her husband took over the store from her father in 2003/2004. In all, the store has been a staple of downtown Whitecourt for 43 years! To say that things have changed over that time is an understatement. "The downtown has a lot of empty businesses now, whereas when we first started down here, we were crammed in. As a kid, we walked everywhere, from uphill to downtown. Even just the traffic has changed so much. Back then, there weren't traffic lights. The town has definitely grown and evolved, and it's great to see," remarked Deane. "When you live here, you just kind of go with the changes, but when you look back at pictures of how it used to be, it's like, Oh my gosh! I remember that! There was even a grocery store on Main Street."
Since the beginning, the selection at Whitecourt Stationery has adapted to changing times and needs. Not only do they provide the basics, like file folders, pens, dated supplies, and paper, and services such as laminating, scanning, emailing, photocopying and outsource services like invoices and bills of sale for companies, they offer many other things too. "Let's face it, office supplies are boring," laughed Deane. "We like to have some seasonal giftware in the store. At Christmas, we have ornaments, decorations, and small gifts available. In the spring, we have some fun things for your decks and yards, and then all year round, we keep trendy things in stock like diffusers, oils, guest books, baby books, and other gifts."
One super trendy item right now is Squishmallows (pictured in Joanne's arms), and Whitecourt Stationery is the place to get them. "We've become the Squishmallow place in town, and we love them. We get so excited when they come in. I don't know what it is about them, but they just make you happy."
As fall approaches and back to school becomes the hot topic, Deane and the staff are excited to get elbows deep into packaging supplies for returning students. "We love doing your school supply orders and getting them ready for you." Whitecourt Stationery has the same lists that schools supply parents. One quick email or phone call to the store is all it takes to take the guesswork out of it. "The lists are on our website (www.whitecourtstationery.com), as is the package pricing. You can also customize your package if you have supplies leftover from last year. That would, of course, change the pricing. We probably do over 400 packages. The earlier you get it in, the better chance you've got of getting everything you need. We try not to sell out, but sometimes we do."
Deane said her favourite part about running a business is public interaction. "I go into some businesses and do their inventory, and I sometimes feel like I'm an employee there because I know all the people, and I've watched transitions there. It's great talking to people who come in and having that association with the community. That community spirit and involvement is my favourite."
Looking forward, Deane hopes to see the economy improve. "COVID will eventually go away, but the economy was in trouble before that." She said that she credits the local support. "I just can't believe the local support we've had through COVID. It's been incredible. Not just us, but the town. You just see it in people. They want to support local. As a business owner, I just appreciate that so much. Thank you!" Whitecourt Stationery is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 4 pm. Come fall, Deane said they expect to increase their open hours. Email school supply orders to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the store @ 780-778-6303.
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press