At the Northern tip of downtown Prince George, nestled behind a sidewalk sits an unassuming store called Wall to Wall. Inside is what its owner Christina Wall calls a cabinetmaker’s dream.

The shop’s aisles burst with discontinued door windows, plumbing supplies, electrical cables, lamps of various shapes and sizes suited for banquet halls, logs, doors, hinges, tiles, and “literally everything you need to build a house,” says Wall.

Wall began her entrepreneurial journey in 2019 when she realized a need to recycle construction materials. After much research and planning, she opened a restore, which accepts second-hand items at no cost, selling them to customers for a low price.

Since then, Walls says she has collected and sold nearly 47 tonnes of stuff that would have otherwise been dumped in the local landfill. Her business has also been endorsed by the Regional District of Fraser George as the region’s recyclable store. Now, it’s being recognized by the province.

Wall to Wall is a finalist in the top provincial award contest in Western Canada, the Small Business B.C. Awards (SBBC). The enterprise, the only recycling centre for construction materials in the regional district, was awarded “for their work toward finding better ways to impact the environment and the lives of people in their community,” says SBBC’s website.

Every time Wall is asked about her nomination, she beams, breathing heavily in disbelief followed by an effort to contain her excitement.

A picture of Walls store
A range of items in Wall to Walls aisles Photo by Hiren Mansukhani

Wall’s intimate relationship with construction materials began in the early aughts when, after several minimum-wage jobs, she was hired by Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit providing interest-free mortgages and homebuilding services to low-income families.

She worked at the organization’s restore, raising funds and filing paperwork for clients. She also built houses for a few families.

In 2005, Wall had her house built by her colleagues at the organization. She was always moved by the visible relief on the clients’ faces after they had received a “good deal.” It gave her a sense of belonging at the organization — especially after she became a homeowner under the nonprofit’s auspices.

But in 2011, Wall decided to move on, taking up a first aid course to help those at logging sites. She says she was able to save a life at a camp, which felt rewarding, but she was also saddened to see dead trees all around. Years later, after working several other jobs in health and tourism, a family emergency impelled her to contemplate plunging into the world of entrepreneurship. “I knew I needed my own hours,” Wells said.

One day, just before she began her business, she thought of visiting a landfill to gauge the amount of construction waste that ended up there. She allotted no more than half an hour to the task. When she reached the waste site at Foothills Boulevard, she instantly saw four trucks with reusable construction materials streaming into the area.

The experience only reinforced her belief in her business idea. But just after she was able to get her shop up and running, COVID-19 struck. Even as the world huddled in their homes, uncertain about its future, she tried to look at the brighter side.

Customers who would have travelled to Mexico or Florida for the winter were now accessible. Yes, it did take Wall a little longer to get noticed, but she used social media to spread the word around. Plus, she was supported by the community of Prince George, for which she has nothing but praise.

“The support of Prince George was just amazing!” she said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons I have made it this far.

“When I went around town and said, ‘Hey, I’m opening up a store,’ they didn’t ask me what kind of store — they’re like, where?” she went on. “A lot of our local media gave a lot of small businesses free advertising.”

Rising prices of construction materials and the love of her community surely helped, but it was Wall’s resourcefulness that kept her afloat. She didn’t lose sight of her social media presence. She reached out to the regional district to have her store endorsed by them. She would also visit nearby stores to spread awareness and seek scrap materials.

“It was very tiring,” she said. “But totally worth it.”

One day in February, she sa an email pop up in her inbox. You’ve been nominated by your community members for the Small Business B.C. Awards, it read. The news reminded her how fulfilling her job is. The same day, customers would trickle in to congratulate her for her nominations. “I have the greatest customers,” she said.

More than a month later, she received another email. Wall was picking up soft drinks at Save-On-Foods. This time her business was chosen among hundreds of enterprises as a finalist for the award. She stopped shopping, and quickly swirled around, a move she calls her “happy dance.” She gave a repeat performance after waiting in line for her favourite cashier. She then rushed home to share the news with her sister. And the excitement continues.

As Wall was describing her journey, a customer named Sharon Miller was scanning the aisles. She then turned to Wall and handed her a doughnut from Tim Hortons. Miller first stumbled upon the store more than a year ago upon someone’s recommendation. Miller was impressed.

“The store has everything,” she said. Miller was charmed by Wall’s sunny disposition (“Always smiling.”) Miller kept returning to the store, buying hinges, pliers, screwdrivers and doors. Both shared interests in art. They each had a cat and, as a result, bonded even more. Many months later, to Miller, Wall’s store now feels like her place. “I come here twice a week,” she said.

As she spoke, Miller’s friend, Lilian Anderson chimed in. She says she has saved hundreds of dollars at Wall’s store. For instance, a tile at the restore comes at a price of 75 cents. The same would cost a buyer $3.50 at The Home Depot, Anderson says.

“The products I did buy here were actually new,” Anderson adds. “A lot of people buy more than what they need, and in the end, they can’t use it all.

“What are they going to do with it? So, they bring it here. And then people like me who maybe don’t have a big budget come here and see that there’s a product which is brand new.”

A picture of Lilian Anderson
Lilian Anderson is now a regular customer at Wall to Wall. Photo by Hiren Mansukhani

People like Anderson fuel Wall’s drive. If Wall wins the award, she will receive $10,000 and mentorship from leaders at the SBBC. She’d like to use the prize money in growing her business. “I need more space because I’d like to expand.”

“I’m also hoping that maybe more people will follow suit and open more construction recycling centres in the regional district.”

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