PHOTO: Jordan, Brielle, and Katie Stus at the Great Bear (Phiotio by Nicholas Donaldson, FF Times)
Jordan Stus (Outers 2005-06) and his wife Katie have taken over at The Great Bear, the fishing store, gift shop, and Shell station just this side of the Noden Causeway on Highway 11.
When their daughter Brielle arrived a year ago, Jordan knew it was time to make a change. A tradesman for Hydro One the past few years, he had qualified as a lineman and was working on his electrician’s ticket. He enjoyed the work, but it meant travelling all over the region – too many nights away from home.
So he and Katie started looking around for a business opportunity.
“I worked summers at Branch’s [Seine River Lodge] when I was in a high school, so we looked into buying a couple of different camps,” Stus told us.
When the The Great Bear became available, they were intrigued. What clinched the deal was that the sellers, Greg and Shelly Gustafson, were willing to work with the young couple through their first few years in the business. The Gustafsons were in the same boat when they started out at The Great Bear with a young family.
“Once we had talked with Greg and Shelly, we knew we could do this,” Katie told the Fort Frances Times’ Nicholas Donaldson. “I asked her straight up: Is this doable for us?”
Katie is a licenced massage therapist (that’s on hold, at least for now), who is focusing on getting the gift shop in shape for the busy summer season. Recent additions include a new line of Stix & Stones outdoor clothing, unique to the area, and a collection of Oscardo Native art stoneware, that are going over very well.
Jordan is concentrating his efforts on the service end of the business, and learning the books and accounting system – a whole new experience for him. He started work at The Great Bear in September; they took over officially on March 1.
The challenge is that this is actually several businesses rolled into one – not uncommon in this neck of the woods. The Shell station is the core of the business; in addition to serving highway travellers, Great Bear offers contract services to log haulers. The spacious lot situated right along the highway is ideal for them.
For tourists and camp owners, The Great Bear bids to be a one-stop shop with convenience foods, fishing gear (including bait and licences), and of course, souvenirs. The staples sought by American tourists – Cuban cigars, wild rice, maple syrup, Malkins jams – are all there, but that’s just the start. The tourist gift market grows more sophisticated and fashion-centred every year.
“That’s Katie’s department,” said Jordan. “[but] yeah, I will probably be learning all about that, too.”
He’s the fishing expert. His family had a camp on the Seine system, and he was out there when he wasn’t at work at Branch’s. He and brother Josh are regulars in the Bass Classic. The Great Bear is a sponsor of the Canadian Bass Championship in Fort Frances; Jordan’s not sure if he will be entering. Between a new business, a new daughter, and the ABC, it’s already going to be a hectic summer.
And what has he learned about the family of bears that are the shop’s roadside claim to fame?
“Umm… maybe you better talk to [14-year staffer] Cory,” he said.
“Well, we don’t have to do much,” he told us. “We painted them a few years ago, but they’re pretty heavy duty. Mostly the rain and snow keep them clean.”