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Dealers not welcome

Terry Kruger
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 08/05) - The day two crack-cocaine dealers fought over who could sell in the Gold Range Hotel, Richard Yurkiw said enough was enough.

The Gold Range is one of Yellowknife's oldest businesses

That day came more than two years ago, and since then he and his staff have hung out a "not welcome" sign in their effort to clean up Yellowknife's busiest bar.

"I won't live under the conditions they choose," Yurkiw said. "We had to take control of the bar."

One of Yellowknife's oldest businesses, the Gold Range has been in the Yurkiw family since 1977. Richard's father Sam ran the operation up until three years ago, watching over the place from a stool at the end of the bar.

Richard said it has seen better days.

"The first thing I found when I got back was drugs, drugs, drugs. It was the wild west."

At one time the Range had the highest sales in Canada. The 254-seat pub has a nation-wide reputation; a recent group from Toronto stopped by to pick up a Gold Range mug, to prove they'd been there.

Upstairs, there are 35 rooms, many occupied by long-term residents.

When the crack problem was at its worst, long-time customers stopped coming.

"One day this guy came in and ordered a beer. I had no reason not to serve him," said general manager Nadene McMenemy. One of 18 employees, she's worked at the Range for 14 years.

"Within eight-to-10 minutes he was throwing chairs."

Even worse, said Yurkiw, was seeing young teens - 13 or 14 years old - "prostituting themselves to pay for their habit."

Hotel rooms were getting destroyed.

"There were 40 punch holes in the wall of one room, and we've had sinks torn off."

As the dealers and users were evicted, rooms were renovated at a cost of at least $1,000 each. The hotel hallways are patrolled regularly by security to make sure nothing illegal is going on and to make sure teens haven't broken in.

He took matters into his own hands by banning anyone involved in the crack trade.

"We originally tried one day, one week, 30 days, but we found it was a joke," he said. "Now you're out for life."

A list of the names of people banned from the Range is posted prominently behind the bar.

Yurkiw said they don't phone the police.

If they see someone doing a deal, that person is asked to leave and told never to return. When they do try to come back, they're escorted out.

"They'll try for a little while, but we stick to it," said McMenemy.

They've moved to other hangouts.

Yurkiw said he knows the crack fight has hurt the business's bottom line, but said it's worthwhile.

"It took us two years. We were willing to take the hit for a clean bar."

He said they're starting to see old customers back at the tables to enjoy live music five nights a week, the Saturday jam, jigging contests and Friday afternoon food specials.

This fall, Yurkiw is planning renovations to the bar, including new carpet, tables and chairs and wallcoverings.