Iqaluit could be without a thrift store in two months as the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre, the landlord of Building 655, has given the Piviniit Thrift Store two-months notice of eviction.
This came as a surprise to members of the Piviniit Society, which has been operating the Piviniit Thrift Store since 2009.
“That’s two-months’ notice after we’ve been in the building 12 years, this is kind of devastating for us,” said Linda Ham, treasurer of the Piviniit Society, who has been involved with the store since it opened in 2009.
It’s simply not enough time to find an alternative location in a city that has a shortage of real estate, said representatives of Piviniit, adding that they need at least a year to find another location.
The lack of space, particularly downtown, is also one of the reasons why the food centre is seeking to evict, having recently received grants to expand its programming in the months ahead.
“We’re going to be making some announcements about some new programs in the next few weeks. At this point I can’t say anything more than that,” said Rachel Blais, executive director of the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre. “We are under a bit of a tight timeline in order to start our programming as soon as possible.”
Blais said while the organization is only required to give one month of notice, it opted to give an additional month to allow the thrift store more time to find a new location.
Ham and Anika Bychok, a board member/volunteer coordinator with the Piviniit Society, said the eviction notice puts Piviniit in a tight spot.
“We can’t afford $12,000 a month in commercial rent,” said Ham, adding that right now Piviniit pays about $2,600 a month in rent in Building 655.
Blais spoke of working toward an “adaptive solution” jointly to allow a thrift store-type service to continue despite changes on the horizon.
“We’re very eager to work collectively and to work collaboratively with Piviniit Society for a solution that works for both organizations,” she said.
With or without Piviniit, the food centre will offer some sort of thrift store service, according to Blais.
“If Piviniit chooses not to collaborate with us, we are prepared to move forward and offer an adaptive service to the community without them,” said Blais.
Piviniit volunteers have started a petition both online and off to stay in the society’s current space longer, at least a year.
“There is a link on our Facebook page right now where people can sign their name online to support our cause,” said Bychok.
The petition won’t affect the food centre’s decision, however, Blais stated.
“No, unfortunately, we require additional space for our programming,” she said.
The high-cost of living in the North has Piviniit worried many won’t have a place to get affordable clothing on a regular basis.
“The majority of our clientele are Inuit. Many, many families come in… you can outfit your family for $30 — one item at NorthMart can cost $30. It makes it affordable for people,” said Ham. “Worst-case scenario, if we really do get evicted in two months we’ll rent a couple of sea cans (for storage) and probably close until we find another space.”
The community support Piviniit thus far has the society holding onto hope that the eviction notice will be rescinded.
“Everyone I told about this today seems very sympathetic and supportive,” said Bychok, noting that dozens and dozens of signatures were collected on their petition last Saturday alone.
Aside from paying rent and for supplies, all proceeds through Piviniit are donated to others, said Ham. Piviniit also recently re-established its program to donate excess clothing to communities outside of Iqaluit.
“It’s not just Iqaluit being affected, it’s all of Nunavut if we have to close,” said Bychok.
“Even before this happened, (people were) thanking us for volunteering,” Ham said. “We got a lot of goodwill in the community.”