Reactions are mixed following a statement from the NWT Housing Corporation on a possible bid to open government-supported hardware outlets in small communities.
Corporation spokesperson Charles Sanders told NNSL Media on Dec. 16 that potential government-run hardware stores might open “where there are no competing businesses and homeowners wouldn’t have access to building materials.”
Sanders’ statement was a clarification of an earlier comment from corporation president Tom Williams, who said that in 2020 “we may get our local housing organization to serve as a hardware store in the smaller communities to provide material which could be purchased.”
That irritated several Chambers of Commerce in the territory and raised concerns of unfair competition hurting small businesses.
However, the revised comment from Sanders didn’t calm all of the worries of Renée Comeau, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce.
“It is still concerning that the NWT Housing Corporation and the GNWT believe that going into private business is going to somehow solve our housing crisis,” she told NNSL.
“The Housing Corp and the GNWT need to partner with the local development corporations in the communities that do not have access to a hardware store and/or viable option than to order materials in for residents, and help support and bolster new entrepreneurs outside of the main centres.”
“Government needs to start listening to the business community and supporting the local solutions not competing with them.”
The Housing Corporation’s plans elicited varied responses from hardware stores in the territory.
“It’s more of a concern out in the communities. We can’t really worry about it,” said Julie Bringas, manager at True Value Hardware in Yellowknife.
In Fort Smith, both of the local hardware stores were critical of the corporation’s idea.
“I certainly wouldn’t want that if possible. We’ve already got competition from Ace Hardware. We’re a small company. We’ve been around since 1974,” said John Evans, owner of Evans Electric.
Geoff Stock, owner of Ace Hardware, also known as Freund Building Supplies said he wasn’t surprised by the plan.
“The NWT Housing corp has seemingly found a way to sideline material suppliers in the territory. In the NWT we have supplied building materials to Hay River, Lutselk’e, Fort Providence, just about all the communities. It would take away from our opportunity to supply. It’s not good. What’s their rationale for wanting to do that?”