'I'm a warrior': Her business gutted by fire, Cambie Pharmacy owner vows to bounce back
VANCOUVER -- Nelli Jakac has had tough days.
She’s worked to keep her pharmacy open through a pandemic, kept filling her customers’ prescriptions, and done everything she could to get whatever personal protective equipment she could acquire onto store shelves.
But Oct. 15, 2020 may rank among the toughest days Jakac can remember.
Early Thursday morning, a massive fire gutted Jakac’s Pharmasave business on Cambie Street near King Edward Avenue, along with four other small businesses.
“I just fell to my knees,” Jakac said, describing the moment she first saw the damage. “You watch these things in movies; it doesn’t happen to you.”
The ceiling of the business she built over 15 years has caved in. Instead of a wall, there’s a waterfall.
“It’s devastating,” Jakac said. “It’s like having a child die in your arms.”
That’s perhaps especially true for Jakac, who said she put her “life and soul” into the business as a single mom, both to be her own boss, and to have something to hand over to her children.
Her first customers, she said, were “rebar guys” and “backhoe operators” from the days of the Canada Line construction.
She fondly remembers serving them gourmet sandwiches and homemade banana bread.
Jakac had hoped COVID-19 would be the only curveball of 2020. She was “down compared to last year,” she said, but still able to pay her bills.
On Thursday, that all changed.
“Instead of giving flu shots, we were giving shots of water,” Jakac said, referencing the four ladder trucks and 50 firefighters that tried to save her business and her neighbours.
Rania Hatz, the Executive Director of the Cambie Village Business Association said business owners on the strip were “holding back the tears.”
“Everybody was hanging by a thread,” Hatz said. “That thread was the pandemic. And you’re looking at it now. It’s just disaster.”
Two doors down, Moha Bateni, who has owned Authentic Rugs & Art for 23 years, was counting his blessings.
About a hundred rugs will have to be cleaned. And Bateni has some water damage in the front corner of his business.
But Bateni said a concrete wall saved him from millions in losses.
“I may have to wash some carpets, but I’m super lucky,” he said.
Natasha Jakac-Sinclair, Jakac’s daughter, called her mom a “tough,” hard worker who taught her to rise above adversity.
“I think it’s less of the loss of the building, but more the loss and break up with community that hurts the most,” Jakac-Sinclair said.
Her mother said she has no doubt she’ll welcome people through her doors again, though the building she’s spent the last decade-and-a-half in is set to be demolished.
For now, she’s switching her files over to a Pharmasave at Main Street and 30th Avenue. And if her clients can’t get there in person, she’ll deliver.
And as for re-opening, Jakac isn’t sure where or when, but she is sure of one thing:
“I will be back,” she said. “I’m a warrior.”