Long line-ups through the parking lot and onto the street plagued the Iqaluit beer and wine store’s first week of operation, but by Saturday one resident had set up shop in the parking lot.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
During its first week of operations, Iqaluit’s beer and wine store saw line-ups with waits of an hour or more for customers. In four days of operation, the store sold $100,000 of beer and wine.

“Saturday was almost a social event for many. An entrepreneurial young lady was selling chili dogs for five bucks,” said assistant deputy minister of Finance Dan Carlson.

“We knew and we expected it to be busy. It was a great weekend. People are excited. There’s that novelty aspect. I had a chance to chat with a lot of people in line, either just chatting or helping them set up their customer account on a tablet out front, and a lot of people admitted freely that they were there for the novelty.”

On Tuesday, when service resumed after being closed Sunday and Monday, cold and rain kept the line-up short and indoors, and that’s what Carlson figures will happen at the temperatures dip into the winter.

“That reinforces what we expected, which is Iqaluit residents are excited about the store, but there will be an end to the trailing line-ups we saw in opening week,” he said.

However, Carlson notes Nunavummiut are a hardy, patient and determined bunch.

“But I would be surprised if many would stick around once it gets cold.”

Those first four days opening week were lucrative.

“It was just over $100,000 in the first four days of sales,” said Carlson.

The store opened Wednesday, Sept. 6. Beer took in $59,000, and $38,000 in wine. The GN also collects bottle deposit fees, same as other jurisdictions. Customers can reclaim that deposit at Bryan Hellwig’s bottle-recycling depot located at Northern Collectables off Federal Road.

“It works out to about 2100 sales transactions, so roughly 530 transactions a day,” said Carlson, adding that’s one sale per two minutes and 20 seconds, approximately.

Carlson expects the permitting office, where Iqalungmiut purchase permits to import alcohol, to continue to be busy.

“The beer and wine store is a walk-in outlet, but it doesn’t change anything else. Nothing else about the Nunavut liquor regime changes. For anyone who wants to order hard liquor, or beer or wine, on their own they can do it through a liquor permit or the Rankin warehouse,” said Carlson.

“We’ll keep an interested eye on it.”

Staff, who were trained by Liquor Control Board of Ontario staff, have had to turn away customers who were under the influence or had expired photo identification.

“That’s their job. We consider ourselves responsible retailers. Part of that responsibility is responsible service, so we will not serve anyone who is intoxicated,” said Carlson.

“We will check ID every time. We will check customer accounts. We will enforce those daily maximums.”

The daily maximum is 12 beer plus two bottles of wine.

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak asked Finance Minister Keith Peterson Sept. 12 in the legislative assembly how the government would monitor whether or not the beer and wine store in fact succeeds in efforts to “target bootlegging, reduce binge drinking and … reduce alcohol-related harm in Nunavut.”

“It’s early on,” Peterson responded. “We are monitoring it. We have close working relationships with the RCMP. I checked just about every day. On the weekend, of course, people are probably expecting the worst. The weekend was actually no different than the other weekend according to the RCMP.”

In answer to a query from Nunavut News/North, the RCMP confirmed that was the case via e-mail.

“Iqaluit RCMP advises that despite the tremendous popularity of the store upon its opening, the Iqaluit RCMP did not notice an increase to the amount of calls for service or calls involving alcohol since the opening of the store,” said Cpl. Henry Coman.

As Peterson has noted in the past, profits from the store are fed into a harm reduction program to the tune of $500,000 a year.

The Iqaluit beer and wine store is three-year pilot project.


Mike Bryant

Mike W. Bryant is the managing editor for NNSL Media. He started working for Northern News Services as a general news reporter in 1999. He is the recipient of numerous national and provincial journalism...