PORT HAWKESBURY: The Strait area has been graced with the presence of two new businesses.
On September 14, the official opening of Nani’s Esthetics & Laser Centre was held at 308 Philpott Street, then on September 16, Jacky’s Asian Store hosted its grand opening at 634 Reeves Street.
Esthetician Nani Venus left the Philippines 26 years ago for the United Arab Emirates, but after meeting and falling in love with her current office manager, Aby Maqui, a decade ago, they eventually decided to come to Canada, even though they were both earning a very good living at the time.
“I was thinking that this is a good opportunity to come here as a couple because when we were in Abu Dhabi, we were not allowed there, it was a big no,” Venus recalled. “But money cannot buy happiness or a future, so that’s why we decided to move here.”
Venus moved to Canada in 2013 and started working at Secrets Spa in Port Hawkesbury. She described it as a challenging time getting used to a new country, a different climate and a new language. In her first year in Canada, Venus was alone which proved particularly difficult.
“It’s hard for us to speak fluent in English sometimes,” Venus acknowledged. “I arrived by myself and I didn’t know anybody here, I’m a stranger so it was scary.”
But after Maqui arrived and the community embraced them, their stay became much easier.
“People here, they supported us from the start,” Venus said.
Before long, Venus got the idea for a new business; an idea born from necessity since she is supporting her family and has plans to move them to Port Hawkesbury.
Once Venus and Maqui found the location for her business, generous members of the community donated equipment to give them a start last May.
“I can’t believe I have this business,” Venus said. “I’m really lucky because we are not business people, we just want to work.”
And work she does, Venus does laser removal, facials, waxing, facials, manicures, pedicures, and every esthetic service, while Maqui greets customers, schedules appointments, orders supplies, and does advertising and promotion.
“Here all the people help us, the community taught us how to do it, they led us in order for us to have this,” Maqui noted.
Further down the road, at Jacky’s Asian Store, owner Jacky Lou Tormis has been open since June 8 at the Causeway Shopping Centre, a year after she returned from the Philippines with her son. In addition to offering cooking classes, Tormis wants to provide her customers with recipes and she plans to host tasting events.
The specialty store offers food from the Philippines, Japan and Thailand, as well as clothes, accessories, and care products.
“I’m going to have a little bit of everything, like Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese [cuisine],” she confirmed.
After leaving her native Philippines for Dubai 13 years ago, Tormis came to Canada in June of 2015 and also started working at Secret’s Spa. Although she will continue working as a massage therapist to serve the many clients she has built up over the years, Tormis said she enjoys doing something different.
“I realized this is something that is needed in the community, we don’t have something like this here,” Tormis said. “We have to go to Halifax to get our food and it’s so hard in the winter, especially those in the Filipino community who don’t have a car to pay whoever can go and get the stuff for us.”
And her target community is growing. Tormis estimated there are hundreds from her native country all over the region, including approximately 150 in Antigonish alone, and more than 100 in communities like Whycocomagh, Baddeck and St. Peter’s, along with Port Hawkesbury. She noted the closest shops selling Filipino food are in Sydney and New Glasgow.
In addition to her son – who required surgery on his spine to deal with neuro-muscular scoliosis – Tormis is also putting her younger brother through school, and she financially supports her mother, as well as her niece whom she hopes to bring to Canada someday soon.
“I’m so happy that he’s here now,” she proclaimed of her son. “I feel like I can’t ask for more because I know he’s here and he’s safe.”
Tormis received a lot of help from local residents and fellow members of the Filipino community in getting her shop up and running.
“I have a few friends locally, who helped me to paint the shelves, and I have a friend who helped me paint the store, I can’t do it on my own,” she noted. “It’s hard to be a single woman to put all those things together. But the support with my family and my friends in the community, that’s really helped so much. I wouldn’t go this far without my family and friends.”
YMCA immigration settlement officer for Cape Breton, Trina Samson, noted that the new entrepreneurs are not just clients, but have become friends.
“I think it’s incredible on many levels,” Samson noted. “Not only did they just come here to potentially see a future for themselves, but also build the community by opening their own businesses, by becoming entrepreneurs.”
Samson said the new businesses can help attract more newcomers to the region, as well as increase employment and attract investment. Economics aside, the new businesses also contribute to the cultural and social fabric of the Strait area, she pointed out.
“They don’t just own businesses, they volunteer throughout the Strait area,” Samson stated. “They have now opened their doors to welcome newcomers from other countries to live in their homes that they didn’t know before they arrived here.
“When there’s an event going on, other Filipinos travel from Inverness, they travel from New Glasgow, they travel from all over the place to attend events here.”
In the case of Nani’s Esthetics & Laser Centre, Sampson said they have plans to expand. Even though they have only been open since May, they now have more than 200 clients and are booked a month in advance.
“They’re talking about hiring other employees already,” Samson said. “It’s not just about employing other newcomers, it’s also about embracing and employing people right here in the community.”
In the case of Tormis, Samson said she is offering niche products that no other local business does.
“She’s such a hard-worker and she’s so modest,” Samson noted. “People are going to her store, they’re able to buy products they weren’t able to buy locally. She’s also putting together some cooking classes so that they can buy different products and know how to make different Asian meals.”
In addition to enriching the community, Samson mentioned that the community has done so much for the recent Canadians, including setting up computer systems, running errands, providing donations, doing some painting, and displaying products.
“Everybody just wants to see them thrive,” she stated. “It’s amazing, it’s absolutely amazing.”