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Gear and groceries

Grand opening brings shoppers increased selection

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Aug 30/02) - Inuvik shoppers got a new choice in service and selection at the opening of a new store in an old location.

The Northern Store became North Mart last week, following a multi-million dollar renovation to both the grocery and retail sides of the store.

The new-look store held its grand opening last Wednesday.

Store manager Cliff Stringer said work began on the building about four months ago, but the renovation turned out to be a bigger job than initially anticipated.

"We weren't planning on doing such a full renovation, but once we got into it, we basically went full out," Skinner said.

Said and done, the reno cost about $2 million. The store now boasts a new bakery and deli section, and more seating was added for the Quick Stop. The produce department selection was increased, but the retail section was scaled back a bit.

"We went more with the basics," he said. "A lot of the stuff that wasn't selling in this area and condensed it there."

The floorplan was altered somewhat to give an airy, open feel to the store.

More open space

"We basically opened up the space to make it more moveable to the customers," he said, adding that the main office was moved downstairs from upstairs.

The store employs 60 full- and part-time employees

"We see between 600 to 900 customers everyday," Skinner said.

The stores got started as Hudson's Bay trading posts then changed ownership to Northern, then once again owned by the Bay and now owned by the North West Company.

Edward Kennedy, president and CEO of the North West Company, came to Inuvik for the grand opening from the company's head office in Winnipeg.

Kennedy said the North Marts are designed for the larger centres and he hopes the new look and selection will give customers what they expect.

"We'd like to be the first shopping choice locally," Kennedy said. "North Mart puts more emphasis on that."

The changes are not purely aesthetic ones, he said. The selection and service in the new stores is the major shift from Northern to North Mart.

Main goal

"The biggest difference is putting the investment into the store to bring it up to higher standards, especially in the perishable food departments," he said.

On the retail side, the company has added a new emphasis on fashion.

"We have a new alliance with a company called Giant Tiger," he said

"We're bringing in their merchandise for fashion in our Northern and North Mart Stores."

Some of the other centres getting the North Mart renovation have been La Pas, La Ronge, Iqaluit, Happy Valley/Goose Bay and Labrador City.

"We will be converting Hay River as well," he said. "We're going to be doing a major expansion there."

Kennedy said the company has started a new program where some stores are owned by the North West Company but are leased out through the First Nation's development corporation.

The lease programs have been started in some locations in Alaska, where he says the stores have a different name but are otherwise identical to the one in Inuvik.

"This store is the same design as we have in Barrow and Bethel, Alaska, and some of our major centres there as well," he said.

"We use the name AC Value Centre, but the look and the feel is very much the same."

The North West company has shed all other holdings and is now only concentrating on the Northern and North Mart chain.

"This is all we do and we're focused on serving and working with Northerners," Kennedy said.

"Most of our employees -- including myself -- have grown up and are from the North and this is what we do for a living."

"We have an understanding -- we think -- on how Northern consumers think, what they expect," he said.