Rankin Inlet on track to have beer and wine store open this year

Rankin Inlet should have a beer and wine store open by the end of 2020.

The plan is to renovate the current liquor warehouse, which is attached to the Siniktarvik Hotel.

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“It actually used to be a RadioShack, I believe,” said Dan Young, the director of Nunavut’s Liquor and Cannabis Commission. “It is well set up for the public.”

The exterior of the building won’t change, but the inside will be renovated — the walls, fixtures, counter and computer systems have to be built.

There is also a request for proposal out for a new warehouse in Rankin Inlet, to replace the one where the store is being built, and to account for the higher volume of alcohol that will be stored in the community when the store opens.

The RFP closes on June 16, and 17 companies have so far registered to bid for the job. The tender says the warehouse must be ready for occupation “on or within 30 days of July 1.”

Right now the Government of Nunavut’s Human Resources Department is finalizing job descriptions for the new store.

The hope is to hire nine new people in Rankin Inlet, Young said, including managers, administrators and cashiers.

The store will operate “very, very much like the operations of the store in Iqaluit,” Young said. “There’s a single file line. You go to one of our tills. You’re handed your product and you leave.”

George Hickes, the minister responsible for the NULC, said in the legislative assembly in February that the store would open in 2020.

Between a ransomware attack at the end of 2019 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Young said that the NULC has faced “hurdles” in keeping that promise.

“We are experiencing some delays so the date could be pushed later, but right now we are planning [for] 2020,” Young said.

A key part of the store opening as planned is securing the warehouse space, Young said. He added that they’re having “a little bit of issues” with “players and partners outside of government” working from home and not being available, which accounts for delays and uncertainty.

In May 2017, 372 people in Rankin Inlet voted in favour of the store opening, and 127 voted no.

There were 1,311 people on the voter list, out of a population of nearly 3,000.

Turnout was 38 per cent. Of those who voted, 75 per cent were in favour.

Iqaluit’s beer and wine store opened in September 2017 and is nearing the end of its three-year pilot project. Young said they wanted to wait and work out any kinks in the Iqaluit store’s operation before opening more stores.

He said they changed some things internally, in the store’s operation and organization, including boosting the number of staff.

The other thing they wanted to see was how the store’s existence affected the public. He said the NUCL finished a report, partly based on results from a public survey, partly based on feedback from different government departments and other organizations, and sent it off to Hickes for him to make a call on whether or not the store will stay open.

“There’s not going to be any major changes as a result of that [report],” Young said, “because we’ve been making changes all along.”

One change was allowing more flexibility in the total number of beer, wine and coolers someone can buy per day, while another was offering ciders and coolers as well as beer and wine.

When the Iqaluit store first opened there were about 10 or 12 employees, Young said. “Now we’ve got over 30 approved positions once the [new] store opens.”

Young said the NULC met with Rankin Inlet’s senior administrative officer at the end of 2019, and later met with hamlet councillors to answer questions and address concerns.

“They were overall very supportive of having a store open,” Young said.

Rankin Inlet’s mayor hadn’t responded to a request for comment from Nunatsiaq News by our publication deadline.

Young said he didn’t know how much the renovations to the current warehouse, acquisition of a new warehouse, and hiring of employees will cost.

They’re working with Community and Government Services to figure that out, he said, but won’t know how much the warehouse will cost until the RFP closes.

He expects it to be cheaper than Iqaluit’s store, because it’s not being built from scratch.

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