Retail, Northern style
Low prices, lower temperatures at Next To New

by Ian Elliot
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Feb 13/98) - It's not well-lit, it's not warm, it's not well-organized, but on the first Saturday of the month, no store in town gets a better crowd.

After all, where else in Inuvik can a person find winter clothing for the kids at a buck a bag, or enough polyester-heavy garments to outfit all the attendees at one of the town's Tribute To The '70s parties?

Inuvik's churches banded together 15 years ago to open the Next To New shop near the arena, open the first Saturday of each month. It's a truly Northern shopping experience -- absolutely nobody tries on pants at the Next To New shop in February.

"It's actually colder inside the store than it is outside because you're surrounded by so many cold things," joked Karen Kuhnert, who has volunteered with the store since its beginning.

"You're frozen, the bags of clothes are frozen -- it's like standing in the flash-freeze section of your refrigerator as opposed to the regular section."

There is never a problem finding shoppers, though -- last weekend, 52 bags full of clothes were sold to shoppers who braved -37 C temperatures.

"One time the power was out and the place was full anyway," recalls Denise Bazin, a volunteer who spent last Saturday in parka and mitts arranging the mountains of used clothes that fill the inside.

"There were about 30 people in here in the dark."

The first Saturdays can be a mad house, with people packed along each of the long tables the clothes are piled on, with volunteers squeezing inside carrying boxes of donated clothes, shouting out who the clothes would appear to fit.

"You get a real cross-section of people who come here," said Cheryl Allen, another volunteer.

"It is amazing how many people come through here on a Saturday."

Shoppers range from people searching for bargains on labels or picking up an extra layer for the bush camp -- where no one cares what you look like as long as you're not whining about the cold -- to mothers with young families and people on welfare trying to make ends meet.

"It is very unfortunate that there is such a need in the community that people have to come out at 40-below to buy clothes for their families," Kuhnert said.

The proceeds from the store are directed towards charitable causes in the community but it is not a big moneymaker due to the fire-sale prices. It is more of a necessary charitable venture, and some of Inuvik's hand-me-downs are boxed and sent to outlying communities for distribution there.

The store is trying to fix its heating problems and is looking for $5,000 to buy a furnace, which it can afford to run. Kuhnert says there are two strings attached to any donations, though -- the store insists it will accept not a penny of lottery or bingo money because many of its customers wouldn't need to shop there if not for gambling.

"If anyone has 5,000 clean dollars to give us, we'll be very glad to accept it," Kuhnert said with a laugh.