High River businesses getting Leg Up at Spruce Meadows

Mario Toneguzzi, Calgary Herald

Published: Friday, September 06, 2013

A dozen High River retailers hard hit by the June floods that devastated the community are welcoming the chance to get back to business this week at the Spruce Meadows Masters tournament.

The 12 businesses, assisted by Telus' Leg Up program, have set up shop in large white tents along a busy pedestrian area at the equestrian facility.

The new sales opportunity has been a "saving grace," said Tyrrell Clarke, who operated a studio and gallery in downtown High River before it was closed because of flooding.

Tyrell Clarke, of Tyrell Clarke Gallery, says the Leg Up program is a "saving grace" for flood-ravaged businesses.View Larger Image View Larger Image

Tyrell Clarke, of Tyrell Clarke Gallery, says the Leg Up program is a "saving grace" for flood-ravaged businesses.

Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald
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"We've all been trying to stay really positive in High River, but it's been quite depressing, a little bit," said Clarke.

"It's bringing us all together as a collective, so it's helping with the networking because a lot of us are feeling kind of isolated."

Clarke said it will be months yet before she's able to reopen her gallery. Soon she will join other High River businesses in a temporary business park now under construction.

Telus, a founding sponsor of Spruce Meadows, launched its Leg Up program to provide retail space within the Equi-Fair trade show at no cost to the businesses.

With an expected 250,000 visitors passing through the gates over the course of the five-day Masters competition, the aim of the program is to offer businesses new sales opportunities.

"We thought this year we'd like to support a cause close to their hearts. We approached them about doing something to help out a worthy cause. They put their heads together and came up with the idea and presented it to us," said Telus spokesman Chris Gerritsen.

"We know this is an emotional time for residents of High River and the surrounding area.

"We've been working hard to help residents out so this was a natural for us."

Elyse Austen, of Austen Jewellers, said her parents started the High River business in 1990. It was renovated shortly before the flood waters swept through the town.

A second location, in Okotoks, opened last week, but it could be a year before High River location reopens, said Austen.

"It's amazing to see familiar faces and things ... and getting our name out there again," she said of this week's Spruce gathering.

"We thought we were going to show up in some little tent in the back in the corner and when we walked around the corner and saw these tents my mom was crying. She was so grateful."

Jill Patterson, who with AnneMarie Hansen owns Cottonwood Bridal and Formals in downtown High River, was also grateful Thursday.

"We kind of had a nice job at the beginning because all our brides had their gowns hanging in our store and customer orders we were able to save that," said Patterson.

"So in the first couple of days we all ended up ... phoning brides to tell them that their dresses were safe. Our job was actually kind of nice. In the throes of all the disaster, we had a lot of very happy people."

Since then the business has been operating from Hansen's home, and will relocate later this month to the temporary business park.

"So it's really nice to kind of be back in a retail location. The opportunity here to promote our business and get back on our feet and up and running again is just huge," said Patterson.

"This is absolutely fantastic and we can't thank Telus and Spruce Meadows enough for doing this."

mtoneguzzi@calgaryherald.com Twitter.com/MTone123


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