A Nunavut institution changes hands: ACL buys Arctic Ventures
After 27 years, Kenn Harper sells venerable Iqaluit retail store
(Updated Sept. 4, 10:35 p.m.)
The venerable Iqaluit retail store, Arctic Ventures, will change owners Nov. 1, when Arctic Co-operatives Ltd. assumes ownership from the man who’s owned it for the past 27 years, Kenn Harper.
“We’ve built up, with my very capable staff, a very successful business here. But I’m 67 years old and it’s time to consider my options and the many other things I want to do in my life as well…,” Harper said Sept. 4.
Harper, who divides his time between Iqaluit and Ottawa, said he plans to maintain his primary residence in Iqaluit.
The historian, linguist and former teacher said he hopes to spend more time doing writing and research work and will stay on as a trustee and board member for Northern Properties REIT.
“Everything changes. Nothing stays static and I suppose the person facing the biggest change is me. But I don’t anticipate being bored. I anticipate being busy but in a different way than in the past,” Harper said.
Andy Morrison, the CEO of ACL, flew to Iqaluit Sept. 4 to complete the deal, which has been under negotiation for many months.
Soon after signing off on the purchase, Morrison said the deal is good not only for Arctic Ventures customers in Iqaluit but also for the entire ACL retail system, which extends across 31 communities in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
“The increased volume that Arctic Ventures will bring to the co-op system’s purchasing power will be beneficial not only to Iqaluit, where customers can take advantage of the buying power that exists right across the Arctic, but Arctic Ventures will add to that existing buying power,” Morrison said.
Harper said he used the Brookfield management firm of Toronto to broker the deal after putting the business up for sale this past January. Brookfield entertained offers from five potential buyers before narrowing the list down to ACL.
Neither ACL nor Harper disclosed the purchase price. The deal includes the Arctic Home Furnishings store and the concession at the Iqaluit airport.
All current employees of Arctic Ventures will be offered jobs with ACL after Nov. 1 and at least some will be eligible for job opportunities elsewhere in the co-op system, Morrison said.
“Our intent is to hire all the existing employees of Arctic Ventures,” he said.
And in the short-term, Iqaluit customers won’t see many changes — although ACL will review the store’s operations from time to time to ensure the store is meeting the needs of customers.
A long-term goal, however, is to eventually turn the store into a grassroots, community-based member-owned operation, like nearly all the other stores run by ACL’s member co-ops.
“We would love to work with a group, a grassroots group, in Iqaluit, to develop a locally owned and controlled co-operative. Our objective for Arctic Ventures would be to have it community-owned and controlled. Having said that, co-operatives grow from the ground up. There has to be an interest within the community,” Morrison said.
Harper bought the business June 20, 1985 from Bryan Pearson, who opened the store in 1968.
He and general manager John Bens, who for the previous five years had managed a retail store for Harper in Arctic Bay, expanded Arctic Ventures in two stages: a big new section at the back, a second floor and then a new front section.
At the time, they bet on the likelihood of Iqaluit becoming capital of a new eastern Arctic territory called Nunavut.
“We thought Iqaluit was the logical place to be the capital, and that was correct. But even if that turned out not to be correct, we thought that Iqaluit, with the critical mass that was here already, was a growth story and this was a good place to be in business,” Harper said.
And grow it did.
Now, Arctic Ventures offers a big selection of groceries, including fresh produce and other perishables, hardware, dry goods and housewares, a book store, a gift shop, and well-stocked newsstands.
There’s also a thriving Source franchise full of consumer electronics, a video rental store, Arctic Home Furnishings and a small concession at the airport.
“The town grew and we grew,” Harper said.
A big key to that success? Good staff.
“We’ve got some great, long-serving staff here. You can’t build a successful business without good staff and I’ve been very fortunate in being able to surround myself with good, hardworking, dedicated people,” Harper said.