Longtime Friends Team Up to Open New Bouldering, Café Hub in Newfoundland

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The Cove founders at the gym
The Cove Bouldering & Cafe brings a small-bouldering-gym feel to the St. John’s area and is the product of two business plans for separate climbing facilities coming together. (Pictured left to right: Flynn, Ryan, Harvie and Alacoque; all photos courtesy of The Cove Bouldering & Cafe)

The Cove Bouldering & Cafe
St. John’s, Newfoundland

Specs: In the coastal town of St. John’s, Newfoundland, The Cove Bouldering & Cafe opened to the public last July. Owned by Stephen Ryan, Bob Flynn, and operators Joel Harvie and Daniel Alacoque, The Cove became an idea after longtime friends and St. John’s natives Harvie and Alacoque decided to merge businesses after discovering they had both been working on bouldering gym business plans. “We’re very passionate climbers,” Harvie said. “We’ve been taken in by the community over the years, and as we got more immersed in the sport, we wanted to give something back to it.” Harvie noted the climbing scene on the Avalon Peninsula reflects the city’s small population, despite the numerous outdoor bouldering and sport climbing spots nearby. However, the operators have observed the growth of the region’s climbing population and concluded the St. John’s area could support the addition of a bouldering gym their size. (Wallnuts Climbing Centre, opened in the 90s, also operates in St. John’s.)

Capitan software

The Cove has been retrofitted to a former dairy factory, 25% of which had been a “giant, stainless-steel freezer,” Alacoque said. Heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing upgrades were needed, but the operators felt the location was too good to pass up, given its proximity to the city center and the Memorial University of Newfoundland. “When this location came on our radar, we immediately jumped on the opportunity. It couldn’t be a better location,” said Harvey. “We’re just up from downtown [St. John’s]. We’re walking distance from the university. We’re right next to public transit stops. It’s not an industrial area. It’s unique in that it’s right smack dab in the middle of the city.” Additionally, the building will soon house other tenants; a local brewery, for example, is expected to join the mix and complement The Cove’s café.

The Cove's café area
A fixture of The Cove from the start is the gym’s café, which the founders hope will “[deepen] the connection that people have to the facility” and help foster “the social environment that climbing breeds,” per Harvie.
The café was designed as a central part of the business: the operators want individuals visiting the café as non-climbers to leave as climbers. “I think the larger reason that the café was of value to use was because of the social environment that climbing breeds,” Harvie explained. “And it deepens the connection that people have to the facility, but also helps elevate that lifestyle…We wanted a place for climbers to come together, spend some time, be comfortable, express themselves. A café was a great way to expand what we’re able to do from climbing.”

OnSite

In addition to a café, The Cove features a fitness area and a Kilter Board. “Our gym is relatively small, so the Kilter Board was a decision that we made to supplement the selection our customers have,” said Alacoque. The operators also felt having a training board was a way to introduce climbers to grades, since their gym currently relies on a circuit system. The Cove uses a six-tier grading system based on the RIC Scale which they compared to the ski slope system. The operators have been pleased with the results so far, noticing climbers trying a variety of climbs. “I’ve been routesetting for so long, and I’m so opinionated about grades. And my main opinion is that grades have kind of lost a lot of value in indoor climbing in the last while,” Harvie stated. “So, we started by scrapping everything and saying, ‘What do we want our grades to accomplish?’ We want them to guide customers in terms of being able to navigate the climbs in our gym, but we don’t want them to have super subjective outcomes where people are disagreeing with them.”

The Cove's bouldering walls
The Cove’s bouldering walls were made by DÉLIRE Climbing Walls, based in Quebec, and sport a circuit-style grading system ranging from a pink triangle (easiest) to triple black diamonds (hardest).

Other philosophies the gym operators have been hanging their hats on are that climbing is for everybody and indoor climbing is a respected sport in its own right. “People don’t need to be outdoor climbers; they can be indoor climbers too,” Alacoque said. “We definitely push a really positive attitude of whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, you can identify as a climber, even if you’re just climbing our pink triangles in the gym. We definitely believe climbing can be for everybody. It’s a big part of what we do.”

Walls: DÉLIRE
Flooring: DÉLIRE
CRM Software: Rock Gym Pro
Website: www.covebouldering.com
Instagram: @CoveBouldering

In Their Words: “Having a good attitude and being flexible with your expectations—I would consider that a must for anybody…Definitely beef up your contingency fund in case delays happen, because they’re likely to happen. Have a good attitude. Work with people who are also flexible. I would say that it’s really important to have a good general contractor who you can trust. And your wall manufacturer/builder is a key player.” – Joel Harvie, co-owner and co-operator of The Cove Bouldering & Cafe

Harness Consulting