Michelle Payie was born in Czechoslovakia under communist rule. She and her family lived there until she was 10 before they made their escape.
“We went on a bus trip to Austria,” said Payie. “The bus stopped one day in Austria and then everybody got off. The bus driver went back with only two people.”
Payie said looking back she could see why her parents wanted to escape and find a better life elsewhere. She said they had “no freedom of speech, you were told what to do and when to do it, and you were not able to have your own business. It was very strict.”
Payie’s family applied to come to Canada and they officially moved when she was 11.
“It was like a miracle,” she said. “My grandmother came to visit after we’d been in Canada for six years, and she couldn’t believe it. She almost fainted, she said ‘people won’t believe me when I go back.’”
Around 30 years ago, Payie moved to the North Island. She worked for 15 years as the manager at Saan, until the store closed and “everybody got laid off. Then I got a call from the district manager of the Bargain Shop to have lunch and from there I never looked back.”
The Bargain Shop officially opened for business in Port Hardy on Nov. 1, 2008 and Payie has been the manager ever since.
“I love it,” she said. “We supply merchandise for people who are not able to go down Island. We have the ferry traffic on Saturdays, helping out Klemtu and Bella Bella. They rely on our business because they don’t have the chance to come down very often.”
Pay added the store has “a lot of loyal customers, especially our local First Nations.”
Payie said the most important thing about running a successful business on the North Island is customer service. “You have to make sure everyone is treated equal. Our staff is very friendly, we greet customers and thank them for shopping here. Make sure the store is clean, tidy and accessible.”
When asked what she likes about living here, Payie laughed and said “I always said if we get stoplights, I’m moving. It’s friendly here, I couldn’t handle Vancouver, and even Campbell River is too busy.”
She and her husband do a lot of camping in their spare time, but what she likes the most about living here is getting “to talk with the people. Most of our customers appreciate what we do and my staff is so loyal.”
She said the only challenge is trying to get more customers to shop locally before going down island. “People should always try to shop locally, always make sure to check around first before going down Island.”