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Tyson Leavitt, CEO, Craftsman & Builder of Charmed Playhouses and his wife Audrey in Lethbridge, Alberta on June 23, 2016.Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

A family in Lethbridge, Alta., that built a business making custom luxury playhouses for the wealthy has picked an ideal moment to parlay the enterprise into rentable, and more attainable, little retreats in the forest.

At the beginning of the pandemic, booking a night in a fairy-tale cottage worth $200,000 in the Rockies wasn’t a thing. But similar to campgrounds, RV sellers and others offering outdoor-focused, low-coronavirus-risk fun, the Leavitt family has seen an overwhelming demand for spots at their resort in the Crowsnest Pass.

“There’s not a single date available,” Tyson Leavitt, the founder and chief executive officer of Charmed Family Resorts said of his bookings to the end of the summer.

Western Canadians who don’t feel confident travelling too far from home, but still ache to escape, have inundated him with requests – as have international travellers who likely can’t visit yet. “We’ve started building more cabins,” he said.

The cottages are the stuff of childhood dreams, with tiny fairy doors, triangular windows and tree trunks that appear to grow inside. On the outside grounds are large wooden swings and fire pits with toadstool seating. Starting at $400 a night, a stay doesn’t come cheap. But unlike many glamping options, each cottage has its own washroom and a wood-fired hot tub.

A Rapunzel-themed cottage by Charmed Playhouses.Handout

The family started with one rentable cottage in 2020. This year, Charmed opened its site in Blairmore in the Crowsnest Pass with three cedar cottages. The themes: Rapunzel, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and elves.

The small, historic community near the provincial boundary with British Columbia is better known for its lumber and mining industries (a controversial open-pit coal project to be located just north of Blairmore was turned down on environment grounds by a federal-provincial panel this month). But increasingly people come to fish, ski or hike. Blair Painter, Mayor of Crownest Pass, calls the resort “fun, and an awesome opportunity” for the community.

Mr. Leavitt said many of the visitors coming from within Alberta, and sometimes Saskatchewan, have never been to the area before.

“It’s nice to have all those people start to discover how beautiful it is.” And because of the pandemic, “people have become hyper-aware of what you can actually do, locally.”

Mr. Leavitt and his wife, Audrey – who has been focused on design for the cottages – want to expand the resorts into B.C. and Ontario, and someday across North America.

“We’d love them all over the world,” he said.

The family business was landscaping until six years ago, when the Leavitts realized there was an opportunity in building custom playhouses. That landed them a TLC reality show, where they unveiled playhouses for the likes of NBA star Stephen Curry and other celebrities. They now build about a dozen custom playhouses a year, around any childhood theme imaginable. The most expensive so far sold for half a million dollars.

Wanting to offering the playhouse experience in a camping-like setting to families with more regular incomes, they opened the resort. This year they’re in promotion and building mode: They’ve amassed hundreds of thousands of TikTok followers by posting videos of construction and their kids playing at the Blairmore site. Work is under way on four new cottages for the resort, and they’re planning on adding to their staff of 14.

“Between building cottages and playhouses, we’re trying to keep up with the demand – which is fun when you can’t order products and find labour,” Mr. Leavitt said.

The playhouse enterprise and resort are microcosms for how COVID-19 has affected the ability of businesses to build and staff up. Materials – from slides to showers, to the pine tongue-and-groove panelling for the walls – have been hard to order given pandemic supply-chain shocks. “You just never know what the next shortage is going to be.”

In the spring, Mr. Leavitt was having trouble finding the capital to expand his resort. Now he has the money in hand, he said, but once-unemployed tradespeople are booked up – an indication of the pace of renovations, home-building and other construction work in the province.

“I’ve tried to subcontract some work out, but even contractors are too busy to take on additional work,” he said.

“It felt like in a matter of two or three months, all of a sudden it went from everybody being worried that there’s going to be no work to no chance to keep up.”

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