Philipoosie Arragutainaq carved out a niche for himself with his Sanikiluaq convenience store, The Freezer, over the past three years but Arragutainaq says that’s now in jeopardy.
The Freezer sold much of its merchandise – pop and candy being most popular – between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., after the Northern store and the Mitiq Co-op closed for the day.
That changed in late January when the Northern store extended its hours to 10 p.m. from Monday through Friday. The Co-op did the same a short while later.
Now The Freezer’s sales have dropped by approximately 80 per cent.
Arragutainaq, the owner of Naulak Enterprises, sent a letter to the North West Company to communicate how the change in hours is hurting his business.
“From the beginning our hours have been set so that we would not interfere or compete with the Northern store,” Arragutainaq wrote in a letter shared with Nunavut News.
“We are a much smaller business and have less overhead, particularly since we are only open four hours each day, but we cannot continue if the Northern store seeks to take these hours from us … I must ask, is it necessary that you take away this opportunity for a small Inuit business and if so, what message are you sending in such an effort? As a very large and successful business making its profits by selling to Inuit in Inuit communities, should you not respect and support the growth of the Inuit economy and the progress and prosperity of the people who have allowed you to prosper?
“Our company cannot survive much longer with Northern’s new hours. We have had to reduce weekly hours, miss payments on our accounts, and even resorted to opening on Sundays. This is not just a company, it is my family’s source of income and security.”
Arragutainaq added that all of the store’s part-time cashiers – numbering up to eight – are Inuit and the operation exceeds requirements under the Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtunik Ikajuuti (NNI) policy, which the Government of Nunavut uses as its guideline for purchasing goods and services from Inuit-owned businesses.
The Mitiq Co-op, however, appears on Nunavut Tunngavik’s Inuit Firm Registry database, whereas Naulak Enterprises does not.
“The Mitiq Co-op is a small locally-owned business too,” stated Duane Wilson, vice-president of stakeholder relations with Arctic Cooperatives. “It was established many, many years ago by the residents of Sanikiluaq to meet their needs. If the locally-owned Co-op feels that their members and others in the community require retail services until 10 p.m., then that is their decision.”
Darrin Maidment, a director of sales and operations with the North West Company, said the Sanikiluaq Northern store extended its hours to “better meet the needs of the communities we serve. In particular, ensuring that government workers, teachers and others who find it difficult to shop during the day are still able to access a full range of grocery and household products. Since we are not permitted to open on Sundays in Sanikiluaq, we believe evening hours are an especially important option for our customers.”
Maidment added that the North West Company is “mindful of locally-owned small businesses and they are our first choice for tradespeople, freight handling services, maintenance services, etc.”
Other than in Sanikiluaq, 15 other North West Company stores in Nunavut maintain evening hours: Arviat, Baker Lake, Gjoa Haven, Kugluktuk, Arctic Bay, Cape Dorset, Chesterfield Inlet, Coral Harbour, Hall Beach, Iglulik, Naujaat, Pangnirtung, Pond Inlet, Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet.