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Food prices in Clyde River motivate brothers to open grocery store

Martin Kigutaq wants to make a difference for his family and his community.

To that end, over the past year, he's transformed old shipping containers into the Baffin General Store or, as the community affectionately calls the new enterprise, The Containers.

These nondescript seacan containers hold brothers Martin Kigutaq and Daniel Benic's vision of affordable groceries for residents of Clyde River.
photo courtesy Martin Kigutaq

Kigutaq had several reasons to team up with his brother Daniel Benic to start the business.

"The most important being food prices are a heavy burden on many families, including my own. I have a strong background in warehousing and logistics and I believe the current prices of many food items available for sale in the High Arctic are not reflective of the true costs of doing business here," said Kigutaq.

"The second being, I needed an opportunity to be able to provide for my growing family using my own work and hard labor. I am a person who likes to set my own hours and see the work I have completed at the end of the day. I love being my own boss."

Finally, Clyde River is the only community with only one grocery store, a Northern.

"Clyde Rivermiut needed a choice and I hope I am able to offer them that," said Kigutaq.

Benic is the logistical point man in Ottawa, where the brothers lease a warehouse space to stage inventory for air cargo and sealift shipping.

Baffin General Store had an unexpected early launch May 20.

"A community member posted they needed baby wipes, and it just so happened that I had a lot of them and wanted to help. By the time word got out I had a line-up of 20 to 30 customers out the door, for over four hours. I would say the opening day was a success," Kigutaq said.

A Clyde River resident checks out some of the early offerings at the Baffin General Store. Fresh shipments are on the way after an unexpected early launch of the store May 20.
photo courtesy Martin Kigutaq

The new entrepreneur says he'll be stocking the shelves with everything people need on a day-to-day basis.

"I am in the process of shipping up a lot of everyday grocery items. Spices and baking goods usually not available in the store, and hygiene products," he said, adding he plans on taking advantage of sealift season, though he's currently shipping by air.

The Baffin General Store is currently entirely financed by the brothers.

"I have approached many organizations for support, but the amount of requirements is just staggering. While I understand from their point of view that their hesitation is warranted, it has been extremely frustrating requesting assistance. I am currently in talks with a few organizations. But, realistically speaking, nothing happens fast enough in the financial world, especially in regards to a newly-started company with a short track record," said Kigutaq, who, over the past year, has worked up to 11 hours a day and, this past month, more than 14 hours a day.

He says the process of moving forward with a store is theoretically straight-forward.

"But, in reality it has been a long journey. Operating in the North has its own challenges. Not only on the paperwork side of the business, but the environment. Many items readily available elsewhere are just not here – items such as building materials and actual inventory to sell."

He's learning to plan ahead, far ahead, he said.

"Anticipate exactly what is required."

While Kigutaq admits he struggled a bit with the paperwork involved, he says Clyde River's economic development officer has been a great help.

"Billy Palluq has been my guidance in all aspects of my incorporation. Applying for programs and funding has been nothing short of a headache. I even have given up on a few, due to the enormous amount of requirements that are necessary in order to even start," he said.

Nevertheless, Kigutaq is in the process of adding an additional two containers on either side of the existing two.

And his vision is strong. He wants Clyde River residents to have access to prices Canadians see every day.

"It is my goal to make food costs affordable for the whole duration of the year," Kigutaq said.

A second goal is that the company be active in the well-being of the community, which includes engaging with children through programs and activities and to be a positive contributor to the community with community events.

"There are so many hardships that burden families and Inuit living in the North. I am hoping my company will at least be able to change one of those, for the better," said Kigutaq.

"Community support has been nothing short of amazing. Clyde River has been long overdue for a second store, and the support reflects that. Essentially, all of my products are sold at a cheaper cost than existing businesses here. The support has been overwhelming."