EDMONTON, CanadaIt’s been more than a hundred years since Orbit Store opened its doors to the Ukrainian community in downtown Edmonton. Today it still serves as a magnet for Ukrainians who call Alberta their home.

Orbit, a one-room shop near busy Jasper Avenue in the heart of Edmonton’s downtown, is not the kind of place that has an extensive catalogue or can compete with giant local grocery chains. What it offers though is a personal approach and a cultural hub that Luba Tsisar, the store’s current owner, and her only full-time employee, created for Ukrainian immigrants.

Monday is a busy day for Tsisar, as she goes through the stack of papers on her desk. In Orbit, they sell food, CDs, books, crafts, clothes and other trinkets from the old country. However, it’s a tiny fraction of the services a newcomer can find here.


Tsisar knows many of her customers by name. Most of the time she is taking care of translation, travel and notary services while also keeps track of parcel deliveries to and from Ukraine. “It all started with shipping parcels, thus the name,” Tsisar explains. “But we have to look at what people need today. Monday is a parcel day,” she adds just as Mykhailo Smorzhanyuk, a regular Orbit customer, pops in with a huge box that he is about to mail to his family in Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast.

“I’m always looking for spices here, because you can’t get the same ones in Canadian stores,” Smorzhanyuk says, picking through the shelves. He adds that apart from groceries, he always relies on Orbit when it comes to buying plane tickets.

Tsiar is the fourth owner of the store. It was opened by a first-generation Ukrainian at the beginning of the 20th century and aimed at establishing strong connections with the owner’s homeland. Since the store had a central location and was neighboring the city’s Ukrainian market, a pharmacy and a bookstore – it quickly became the core of Ukrainian business activity in Edmonton.


Back in 2003, when Tsisar started working at the store, it was still focused on shipping packages and there were no Ukrainian products for sale. She knew there was a demand for it and her team worked hard so Ukrainian Edmontonians now can fill their grocery bags with pickles, jam, honey, tea, juices and even such delicacies as “Kyiv Cake” and chocolates – all being labeled “Made in Ukraine.”

To ship Ukrainian goods to Edmonton, Tsisar uses a wide network of partners, mainly in Toronto who deal directly with Ukrainian suppliers. “It takes a lot of nerve to find reliable partners that will deliver everything on time. And it’s crucial in our business because it’s all long-distance.” Tsisar said it didn’t become any easier with the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement, which came into force on Aug. 1 of last year, contrary to what many other Ukraine-Canada businesses have experienced.

Even though it’s easier to feel “at home” with Ukrainian food, Tsisar says she still misses apples and homemade cheese. “It’s a taste of home. Even though there are a lot of great apples growing in Canada, my grandma had better ones,” she laughs.

She’s happy that now Orbit helps to make people’s lives easier.


“When I first came  to Canada 22 years ago, I had to pay for a long-distance call 2.5 (Canadian) dollars per minute. Now we have emails. And Skype — we couldn’t use back then. But even though technologies are developing, people like to ship gifts to their families so it will most likely continue.” Tsisar says that now shipments to Ukraine – which they do in partnership with Rosan company in Lviv – typically take a week.

It’s quieter in the store during summertime. However, they typically have 100-200 customers  per week and people return to the store around Christmas and Easter more often.

A native of Chernivtsi in western Ukraine, Sidoniya Semisiya, another Orbit staff member, has been working at the store for 15 years. Before she worked there, Sidoniya often sent parcels to her family in Ukraine since she moved to Canada 23 years ago, and was well aware of Orbit’s business. “When I saw an ad that they are looking for an employee, I took my chances immediately,” she explains in Ukrainian.

“I want people to believe that we can help them, even with friendly advice, and I think we’re succeeding,” she says.  

Tsisar agrees. The store’s owner says her biggest joy is to work with people. “Sometimes all that people want is just to talk to someone in Ukrainian. Some of them are often feeling lost when they arrive in Canada and they don’t know what to do, so we not only help with all our services as a business, but also try to make social connections.”

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter

Comments (0)

Write the first comment for this!