By Margaret Evans
A cloud of sadness hangs over Vernon’s much-loved tack store, Paddock Tack & Togs, as it announces that it is closing on October 15, 2016, after 20 years of being the go-to place for “everything for the equine enthusiast.”
The store started as the Big D Clearance Centre in 1996. Owners Karin and Darryl O’Brian set it up as an addition to their wholesale business, Big D Products. But the store took on a life of its own, developed customer loyalty, was moved to a convenient location, and became the hub of everything equestrian for customers near and far.
The attraction of The Paddock, as it is fondly known, is its variety. The store has a reputation for catering to both English and Western, show ring riding, competing over a cross-country course, in the rodeo arena, or just trail riding. The store has also had one of the best miniature horse departments in Western Canada. Its gift, toys, and home décor department has always been extensive.
“Not only does the store attract customers from throughout the Okanagan Valley but tourists from all over Canada and even some of the United States make a point of stopping and visiting while in the area,” says Joy Viel, longtime employee with the company. “Over the past 20 years we have seen so many of our customers come and go, grow up, and come back with little ones of their own. We have many that just come in to visit or get a piece of advice. They like to tell us of the adventures they have had, the plans they are making, or to share their heartbreak when one of their treasures goes to wait for them at the ‘rainbow bridge.’ The customers are a big part of what has made this store a wonderful place to work.”
Like so many, Viel has seen many changes in the equestrian world, most notably the difference in the horses themselves.
“Gone is the horse that did a little bit of everything,” she says. “Horses and [the different] breeds have become more specialized over the years; therefore, so has the equipment required in the different disciplines.”
Smart decisions were made to cater to that and sometimes Viel was challenged to decide just what to bring into the store. She needed to keep her eye on the latest trend and to gauge whether the Vernon area was ready for changes happening elsewhere. Was the time right to invest in new lines of equipment?
But life in a tack store isn’t only about selling tack but being part of riders’ lives and building cherished memories.
“So many memories,” she says. “There’s the mad rush of people coming in for last minute supplies before a horse show weekend, then the following Mondays when they come back to share their results. There’s the big decision as to what colour halter to buy for the soon-to-arrive foal, then to see pictures of the beautiful baby in a couple of weeks. Then if one of the staff has been highlighted for something they have done, to receive all the congratulations from our customers. We are all part of the Paddock family!”
But two years ago, Paddock Tack & Togs’ parent company, Big D Products, went into partnership with Noble Outfitters. Since the bulk of the business is wholesale, the decision was made to close the retail division - The Paddock. Customers were shocked.
“Absolute horror,” says Viel. “Everyone is in shock and wishes it was not happening. There have been so many hugs and tears in the last few weeks. There are comments like 'Where are we going to go now?' 'We always come in for advice.' 'We don’t want to go to Kelowna or Kamloops.' 'Please don’t close!' Nobody is happy. Only this morning we have had someone pop in to leave some video equipment for someone else to pick up. We have been the handy 'spot' for everyone. A lady from Swift Current is upset because she always stops at The Paddock when she is in town. So many [customers] are sad to see us go.”