Though the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on its operations, Chims Guest House has received some prestigious recognition.
The Port Alberni business, which was opened in July of 2018 by Tseshaht First Nation member Naomi Nicholson, was a finalist this year in the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board (VIREB) annual commercial business awards.
This marked the 14th year of the VIREB awards, which were held virtually this year. Winners were announced on May 7.
A total of 45 projects were nominated for the awards this year. They were vying for top honours in 11 categories.
Chims Guest House was one of five finalists in the Hospitality category. The winner in this category was Tofino’s Hotel Zed.
“It’s a really big deal,” Nicholson said of the awards.
She added simply being a nominee is great recognition. Chims Guest House was the only Port Alberni business nominated in any of the categories.
“These projects are huge,” Nicholson said of some of the other award nominees.
Nicholson’s husband Ed became a partner in the business this past November. She believes the fact Chims was a finalist in its category is also significant as she believes the Nicholsons are the only Indigenous couple operating a business together that was nominated for an award.
The VIREB awards celebrate the best commercial, community and industrial buildings north of the Malahat. In order to be eligible for the 2020 awards, nominees were required to have upgrades at their facilities done between January 1 and December 31 of last year.
Though she obviously would have preferred to have Chims Guest House win its category, Nicholson said she was pleased once she found out who did win.
“I’ve met the lady from Hotel Zed and she’s wonderful,” Nicholson said. “She’s all about building up other women.”
Nicholson was nominated for the award by family friend Brittany Larsen, who owns and operates Ability Wealth Management in Port Alberni.
Nicholson said Chims’ recent renovations have surpassed the $400,000 figure. The renovation project was dubbed Isolation Vacations.
“We have worked really hard the past few years and faced many tribulations along the way,” Nicholson said. “Small businesses face different challenges compared to corporations, so this recognition for our million-dollar investment to the Alberni Valley means a lot.”
Before renovations took place, Chims Guest House consisted of a 550-square foot facility, which offered Indigenous-themed experiences to visitors, some coming from out of province.
Because of the pandemic, however, Chims shut down in March of 2020 and was closed for six months.
It reopened last September but only to individual locals who stayed on short-term (at least 30 days) rental agreements.
Chims’ renovations included adding a second 400-square foot guest house. That opened in February this year, again available only to locals on a short-term rental deal.
Chims also added three RV sites to its facility.
Current renovations at Chims, located on Highway 4, are in their final phase now. Nicholson said paving and drainage work is now being done and gates are also being installed.
“Hopefully by July everything will be totally done,” Nicholson said.
To be eligible for the VIREB awards a business had to be an investment, commercial or industrial building or a renovation project on Vancouver Island, from the top of the Malahat to the island’s northern tip.
The criteria the businesses were judged on included how it complements the surrounding areas and properties, its environmental footprint, whether it has unique features, whether it is aesthetically pleasing and if there is a need for it in the community.
Besides using their own money, the Nicholsons managed to pay their renovation expenses through various grants and loans, including some federal funding.
The couple also received funding via the Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corp, Indigenous Tourism BC and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.
They are proud of the fact that 11 local businesses provided some services and materials to their renovations.
No doubt these Port Alberni businesses were grateful for the local work since the pandemic greatly affected their operations during the past year.
Nicholson believes all of those who helped out with the renovations also deserve recognition and should share attention generated from Chims’ VIREB nomination.