Day one at Powls – Witter Spine and Sports Physiotherapy 25 years ago today, Dec. 18, 1995, saw customers greeted at a card table in reception.
The office’s kitchen table was full of papers, including physiotherapist Cheryl Witter’s rehabilitation training sheets.
One of the first customers was Sue-Ann Fehling, still a regular today.
Witter, who graduated from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, had interned as a physio in Vernon and fell in love with the city. She and then-husband Bob Powls opened their business in the plaza across from the old Vernon Civic Arena on 31st Street.
“It was a small town and a better climate,” said Witter, reflecting on 25 years in business in the North Okanagan. “Bob and I wanted to start a business and we opened Spine and Sports together. I remember talking on the phone to (commercial realtor) Peter Lockhart. We did all of this over the phone. He said he had a perfect place in a building owned by (dentist) Dr. Hugh Mori and everything fell into place.”
Part of the business is still in the original location. Powls operates South End Sports and Spine. Witter has been at the Railway Plaza on 31st Street near the Village Green Shopping Centre for the past 10 years with Spine and Sport North End.
After starting their business, and raising their three kids – Will, Paige, Maddie – the couple job-shared and would be, as Witter described it, the proverbial ships passing in the night. The couple divorced but remained together in business.
“It’s been a journey and an interesting one,” said Witter. “Starting it with Bob. Branching off, yet remaining business partners for 10 years whilst not being married. We jointly ran the business even though we were divorced.”
It’s been a family business. Her three kids have all worked at the office, giving each confidence, said Witter, as they made their way into the adult world. They treat the business, she said, as a “fourth sibling.” Witter’s mom, Betty, was office manager and her dad, Bill, a former banker, was her bookkeeper for 20 years and, “wanted to kill me several times. Justified, to be honest.”
Also helping build the business was Witter’s newspaper column, Spine and Sport, which ran in The Morning Star for 20 years, courtesy of former managing editor Glenn Mitchell and former lifestyles editor Katherine Mortimer.
“Glenn and Katherine encouraged me to write it. Bob did the editing,” said Witter. She and Powls bought their first advertisement in the paper to announce the opening, including their logo, designed five months earlier by Nancy Wilde of Wilde Imagination Sign and Design Inc.
“In August 1995 we met in her basement office,” said Witter. “She chose a strong font, blue and green logo colours, health and wellness colors. I love this logo still.”
Business has been steady in 25 years for Witter. She works 4.5 days a week but other than reducing her workload to three days, Witter has no plans to stop. Service, she said, has become much more personal.
“You get to know the people. It’s a small community,” she said. “I’ve had clients come in with their kids, the kids would sit on the floor on a blanket playing with toys and now those kids are coming in and they have kids of their own. I keep thinking why am I seeing so many knee and hip replacements? It’s because my customers are older and have been with me for 25 years.”
Her business is doing well and Witter is proud of what has been accomplished over a quarter-century.
“Having my mom, dad, and all three of my kids work in the family business. And just building it up to now having eight therapists and two locations,” said Witter. “We survived a pandemic lockdown for two months, and are stronger than ever.”