Sask. outdoor businesses booming as spring arrives early

·5 min read
Freddie Vandelinden, one of the co-owners of Dutch Cycle, said they've had 300 bikes come into the shop in three days showing the demand of people wanting to get outdoors.  (Matt Howard/CBC News - image credit)
Freddie Vandelinden, one of the co-owners of Dutch Cycle, said they've had 300 bikes come into the shop in three days showing the demand of people wanting to get outdoors. (Matt Howard/CBC News - image credit)

Between March 17 and 19, so many people brought bikes in for tune ups and repairs that Dutch Cycle in Regina had to post a plea on social media for people to pause bringing them in.

"That's actually never happened before," co-owner Freddy Vandelinden said. "About midday Friday when my partner called me, it was close to 300 bikes that came through the door … and it didn't seem that the pressure was relenting."

Vandelinden said they needed to put a stop to the flow so they could spend the next few days with four mechanics working long days fixing them. He said usually they get large volumes but not quite like this and not in March.

"It's exploded," he said. "Another thing that's been really surprising, is that to see all the different faces getting into cycling, it's not the usual run of the mill crowd."

Fred Vandelinden works on a bike at Dutch Cycle in Regina, a family-owned business that has operated in the city since 1963. His nephew Freddie Vandelinden said he hopes the mechanics can keep up with demand and start taking in bikes again by March 24.
Fred Vandelinden works on a bike at Dutch Cycle in Regina, a family-owned business that has operated in the city since 1963. His nephew Freddie Vandelinden said he hopes the mechanics can keep up with demand and start taking in bikes again by March 24. (Greg Huszar)

It's a 180-degree turn from where the shop was last year after closing their doors on March 25. Vandelinden said he and his uncle were worried about going out of business and the shop closing permanently during the early weeks of the pandemic, when the opposite started happening.

"It's a record first quarter for us. The demand, it's been up 300 per cent since last year in the industry," Vanderlinden said. "The other big aggravator is just the feeling of getting outside and freedom."

Vandelinden said he believes the shop may be able to start accepting bikes again on Wednesday. For people getting ready to ride, he said it's important they make sure their bike is safe before hopping on for a ride.

Janice Fagnou is currently at the Outter Limits in Waskesiu, preparing the seasonal shop to open early. Fagnou said business has been so great at the Saskatoon shop that the co-owner realized the seasonal store will need to open up sooner than usual.

Waskisiu Lake during a sunset in 2020.
Waskisiu Lake during a sunset in 2020. (Karin Yeske/CBC)

"There's been a lot of excitement," Fagnou said. "This year it is just magnified, I think. And with spring arriving early, it's just a lot of optimism and people just can't wait to get outside."

It's a drastic shift from the online-only shop she had this time last year. Tents, sleeping bags and hiking packs are selling quickly as people make plans for the spring and summer months, she said.

"One of the biggest things that we've all learned is that outdoor activity has just been a constant. And I think we have a renewed appreciation for all that it has to offer just physically and emotionally," she said.

Fagnou said people shouldn't feel intimidated when shopping for outdoor adventures, and start with something entry level and work up from there.

Lisa Legebokoff, the manager of Prairie Summit Shop in Saskatoon, agreed. She said people should start simple with layered clothing and just explore.

"There's so many places close to home that are amazing and beautiful," she said. "Saskatchewan is fabulous for hiking and watersports … just get out into nature and peace and quiet, unplugging and just getting out with friends and family outdoors."

A sunset was captured while on a hiking trail in Saskatchewan.
A sunset was captured while on a hiking trail in Saskatchewan. (Jenn Smith Nelson)

Prairie Summit Shop's Saskatoon location has been full of people planning to do the same, she said. The big item right now is children's splash pants for kids.

"Everything's so murky right now that parents are in looking for the best items for kids. And then also the rain jackets … and then the parents start looking for themselves," she said.

Similarly, tents are in high demand. Legebokoff said she thinks this is because last year there was a shortage of tents in shops so people are making sure they don't miss out this year.

People are just stoked to see all these like new experiences and new activities.
- Trevor Norgan

While bikes are flying off the shelves in Prince Albert's Fresh Air Experience and at Dutch Cycle, a larger item is the main one in Fresh Air Experience in Regina: kayaks.

"We have a good selection of kayaks right now — on preorder," Manager Trevor Norgan said. "This is the first time I've had to do kind of preorders and kind of organize it. So it's definitely a learning curve."

Trevor Norgan, manager of Regina's Fresh Air Experience says summer items are going quickly and some are only available by preorder.
Trevor Norgan, manager of Regina's Fresh Air Experience says summer items are going quickly and some are only available by preorder.(Heidi Atter/CBC)

Norgan said the store had an amazing winter season and many people discovered how fun it can be to get outside in Saskatchewan. Now people are investing in kayaks, canoes and paddle boards.

"A lot of people are talking about going to provincial parks like the Grasslands," he said. "Feels a lot more people talking about the Boreal Trail, which is a new trail in Saskatchewan. It's just incredible."

Kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are some of the hot items at Fresh Air Experience in Regina.
Kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are some of the hot items at Fresh Air Experience in Regina. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Norgan suggests people ask questions when they go shopping for outdoor gear. He said it's key to also remember that just because it's a good deal doesn't mean it's the best buy and people get what they pay for.

"People are just stoked to see all these like new experiences and new activities," he said.

"Like just going out for a bit of a drive out to nature reserve or to walk into trails, just go for a walk and just seeing a different perspective than what's in the city."