2014 Winners

Thunder Bay | Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Shelby Ch'ng

Shelby Ch'ng

Six years into a comfortable public sector job, Shelby Ch'ng decided that the cubicle life just wasn't for her.

As the middle child growing up in a working class family in Thunder Bay's east end, money was always tight, so Ch'ng learned to be resourceful and find creative ways to keep herself busy and entertained.

The almighty dollar was deemed the key to happiness.

"Once you get the money, and you're there with a cushy job and union membership, it doesn't feel like success because you're not creative anymore," said the 31-year-old owner of Unveiled Bridal Boutique, the city's premier bridal salon.

The pull to become an entrepreneur came soon after her husband, Damien, a civil engineer, proposed to her. Ch'ng went shopping for a wedding dress.

An avid viewer of the reality television show Say Yes to the Dress, Ch'ng fully expected the same kind of experience, only to find no such thing existed locally. Many soon-to-be-brides regularly beat a path down the highway to high-end salons in Duluth, Minn.

As a sewing enthusiast all of her life, it was just the push she needed to go into business.

"I've always been a slave to fashion but never had the budget for it," said Ch'ung. "Then one day the light bulb went off and I thought, I could do this."

She dropped by the PARO Centre for Women's Enterprise who helped her with a business plan and a grant application.

"People thought I was crazy for starting a business," said Ch'ng. "I felt like I had a knack for it, but of course you don't know until you try."

She opened her shop on Victoria Avenue in the fall of 2012 in the heart of Thunder Bay's gritty south side business core. Her shop is seen as the beginning of a grassroots revitalization effort.

"I think the spirit and the attitudes need to change and I hope to be part of that. "People think it's a scary neighbourhood and I kind of want to take it back. This is my neighbourhood and I hope I'm inspirational to others to find that space, change it up and make it something beautiful."

Ch'ng participates in a number of organizations including Shelter House's outreach service team, the local BIA, and as a director for SHIFT, the city's young professional network.

She's also put her name on this fall's municipal ballot running for councillor in the Northwood ward.

Armed with her little-used political science degree from Lakehead University, Ch'ng said she's fully prepared to make the 15- to 20-hour per weekly time commitment, if elected, with a larger vision of finding ways to repopulate the city with young families, improve the quality of life and infill the downtown core.

"Although I'm in it to win it, I'm in it to do it my way, and that's how I do things."

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