The Mettle to Pedal. There’s been a changing of the guard at NRG Enterprises. The company, one of 14 that’s called Nelson’s old brewery building home for years, has steadily grown through the global cycling industry’s boom over the last two decades. Photo: Darren Davidson

BUSINESS BUZZ: Latimer’s legendary labyrinth, Valid talks tech zone, Isis expands

All the latest in local business from columnist Darren Davidson

By Darren Davidson

It’s the end of a glorious era up in the alleyway behind one of Nelson’s most legendary buildings.

Most folks know the hulking heritage labyrinth on Latimer Street as the old brewery building, which it in fact is. Columbia Brewery got its start there in 1896 before moving to Creston.

Over 120 years later, the grey giant is home to 14 businesses including Nelson mainstays like Oso Negro, Trainor Mechanical, Silver King Tofu, the Nelson Brewing Company and NRG Enterprises.

After 27 years with NRG, general manager Mike Seniuk has moved on. The man they call Skinny has been with the quietly legendary cycling product distribution company almost from the get-go.

After heading west from his native Manitoba, Seniuk met owner Ramin Sherkat while the two raced mountain bikes in the late ’80s.

Sherkat comically admits to being ‘pretty much clueless, to be honest’ when he launched the company. He teamed up with Seniuk, who then roamed the highways of Western Canada, his vehicle loaded with product, a sleeping bag and his bike. He introduced a huge network of cycling and outdoor shops to some of the young brands NRG had begun to rep — including PowerBar, CamelBak and Ortleib.

The biggest benefit to the dream job says Seniuk: riding single track all across the west, with ever-stoked shop owners and staff after the day’s meetings where over.

Seniuk, Sherkat and a crew that also included 15-year employee and Nelson Cycling Club trail builder Chris George would build the company into a little juggernaut. NRG grew step for step with Nelson’s adventure tourism sector and the cycling industry through a remarkable time, driven by the emergence of the global freeride phenomenon.

Sherkat sold NRG to Quebec-based sporting good distribution heavyweight Lanctot in 2017.

Today, under new GM Mike Brothers, NRG has 10 employees and distributes brands like Maxxis, Surly, Hope and Chromag.

It’s been a heck of a ride for the NRG vets. Good luck to Brothers and his new school crew of go getters.

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Back to the big building, which is another story in its own right.

Don Whitaker officially scooped up the place March 30, 1993. That was the day after his middle daughter was born. It’s been a family affair ever since.

The building was home to Don, his gal Karla and their young family, for years. Like a pirate ship of colourful rouges and savvy business-folk of all stripes, the old brewery building has sailed through almost three decades of business with few of its 14 tenants ever having left.

“It’s been a pretty tight group,” Whitaker reflects. “I always used to say, there was nobody in the building I couldn’t give the baby monitor to if I had to deal with something.”

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And now back to the alley way. There’s a new sign hanging from the garage across from the entryway to NRG and Oso Negro’s roastery.

Stefano and Sonia Bozzi, and Riccardo Bianchi, the owners of one of the Kootenay’s most innovative “glamping” venues — Three Hills Agritourism — have opened up a shop specializing in live-end lumber, milled from their Queens Bay property. Beautiful stuff.

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There’s a lot of local businesses opening up, as the world slowly seems to be trying to do the same…

CEO Chad Shipmaker and the team from Valid Manufacturing are hoping to move out of their Railtown office to new digs in the former School District 8 head office on the North Shore by late summer.

Valid, based out of Salmon Arm, specializes in electronic, mechanical and electrical engineering, providing R&D, software proficiency and product testing for a wide variety of industries. The company has already hired 10 former Pacific Insight employees, and hopes to hire at least 10 more, as well as re-launch some of the company’s lines.

Of even more interest: Shipmaker and the company are proposing the creation of a high-tech zone within the RDCK. A similar zone exists in Salmon Arm.

“There’s a lot of talent in the Kootenays,” says Shipmaker. “People who are underemployed or doing other things” who could find great jobs with Valid or other high-tech firms.

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There’ll be a few new faces on the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce board soon. Two Scotts are gone — Grimshaw (Terra Therma Plumbing and Heating) and Roberston (Taghum Shell) — and there’s now an Amanda (Verigan — from Kootenay Co-op) and a Paul (Cowan — from Cowan Office Supplies.)

Tanya Finley departs as Chamber president for the past two years, and VP Paul Wiest steps in. Karen Bennett moves to VP.

A very important date to note — the Chamber’s AGM is this Thursday, March 25. There’ll be Zoom invites sent to the Chamber’s 500-plus members. Attend if you can, it’s an important bounce-back year as the region’s small business sector aims to recover from the pandemic — and prepares for what could be a phenomenal economic surge. Mayor John Dooley is slated to speak as well.

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City of Nelson CFO Colin McClure addressed the Chamber last week too. He made an important point that won’t be lost on the tax payers of the very new future.

With Canada’s COVID-driven debt projected to reach nearly $382 billion this year, and CERB payments to inevitably end, days of reckoning are ahead. Could there be clawbacks for funds not used? Or tweaks to commonly anticipated programs like the Homeowners Grant? Will costly federal programs dealing with child care, green initiatives and a modernized employment income support program be nixed? Big debt, big questions.

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Congrats too, to Scott Roberston and his brothers Shawn and Cam. Taghum Shell was recently recognized by Shell Canada as one of the Top Five Dealers in Canada.

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A couple of quick notes before we wrap ‘er up.

The Slocan Valley’s first cannabis shop is opening in Evergreen Natural Foods. Ward Street’s Isis Essentials and Exotica has expanded into the space next store, which used to be home to Whoosahh Fashions. Whoosahh, which means ‘to achieve a state of calm and relaxation’ BTW, has moved to 441 Baker St. There’s a new-but-not-new veterinarian in town. Rebecca Maybank, formerly with Selkirk Vet, has launched a mobile vet business called Maybank Mobile Vet.

That’s it for this month folks. Happy spring. Here’s to bouncing back.

Nelson Star