Iqaluit co-op cautious about offering lower prices

“We’re not in the business of losing money,” co-op leader says



Supporters of Iqaluit’s resurrected co-op say shoppers can expect fresher food and rebates once they open the multi-million-dollar store, but stopped short of promising lower prices.

Mary-Ellen Thomas, chair of the Iqaluit co-op, said the new store, to be opened along the beach near the Discovery Lodge, will guarantee quality food, available in bulk sizes.

And if possible, Thomas said the co-op will reduce prices, but not at the cost of the business.

“We’re not in the business of losing money,” Thomas said after a municipal committee approved the co-op construction plans. “We are not a social agency. We are a business with a social purpose.”

However, Thomas said the co-op’s management structure, where customers are essentially the owners of the store, would mean cutting grocery bills could be made a priority.

“If we can do that [reduce prices], pay our staff and our overhead, we’ll do it,” Thomas said. “But I’m not promising anything.”

Iqaluit’s city council gave the city’s co-op movement the nod at a Feb. 24 meeting to proceed with their plans to build a hotel and store complex on the site of the defunct Toonoonik Hotel. Iqaluit and the

Co-op still need to sign a development agreement before construction can begin.

Nick Carter, regional manager for Arctic Co-operatives Ltd. (ACL), said workers will demolish the remains of the hotel in late spring, followed by rapid construction of the building after the early summer sealift. Carter estimates the building, which will include 50 apartment hotel suites for short- to long-term renting, will cost around $8.5 million to get up and running. ACL, an umbrella group for Nunavut’s 35 co-ops, is footing the bill for construction.

Although local co-op organizers expected council to approve the site plans five months ago, Carter said construction is still on schedule. He said Iqaluit shoppers can look forward to their own co-op by the end of 2004, and hotel suites will open in January.

Once finished, the co-op store will be about one-fifth the size of Northmart’s retail space, not including storage areas.

Carter said residents of Iqaluit haven’t seen a co-op store since an art-only co-operative closed decades ago. Volunteers have been trying to resurrect the local co-op since the mid-1980s, he said, but lacked the support.

“It’s not for want of trying,” Carter said of the long delay in delivering the co-op. “It’s a case of keeping an interest in developing a co-op.”

Moses Kilabuk, secretary of the Iqaluit co-op board, said the advent of a local co-op bodes well for the city’s army of artists, who spend days and night trying to sell their carvings, prints and other goods at restaurants and hotels.

So far, the co-op board doesn’t plan to buy and sell art, but Kilabuk hopes the policy will change after the opening.

“Once we decide to buy art, it’ll be one of the places artists will be able to sell carvings,” he said.

For now, Kilabuk said the co-op will aim at delivering the freshest fruits and vegetables in Iqaluit, at the lowest prices.

“We’ll do our darnedest to have our prices lower than Northmart,” Kilabuk said.

Organizers are hoping the announcement about the co-op’s site approval will boost membership, which stands 500 members, including members of the previous co-op. The life-long membership, which costs $10, entitles shoppers to voting rights in electing the co-op’s board and rebates depending on annual profits.

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