After nearly 50 years of selling Inuit and Dene art, Northern Images is closing the doors to its downtown Yellowknife business in favour of an online approach.
The business is owned by Arctic Co-operatives Ltd, which in turn is collectively owned by 32 co-operatives in the NWT, Yukon, and Nunavut – including the Yellowknife Co-op.
Though Northern Images is not run by the city’s Co-op, the Co-op’s members do receive a share of the pay-out from Northern Images’ profits.
Duane Wilson, vice-president of stakeholder relations for Arctic Co-operatives, said the decision to close Northern Images’ storefront was made in the “financial best interest” of the 4,000 members in Yellowknife, as it was losing money.
“There was a time that physical outlets were the best way that we had to help promote and market the Inuit art, the Dene art produced by Co-op members in the Arctic, in order to be able to return that economic benefit to the communities,” Wilson said.
“So, it was a tough decision … but it allows us to, in turn, focus all of our attention as it pertains to online sales of the beautiful and unique art that is produced by Co-op members in the Arctic.”
Northern Images was established in 1972 to sell Indigenous artworks from across the Canadian Arctic, such as prints, sculptures, and jewellery.
While the rise of online commerce has played a role, Wilson said, the Covid-19 pandemic was the “nail in the coffin” for the store.
Tourists made up a significant portion of its clientele, and the NWT’s current border restrictions mean there aren’t nearly as many visitors to sell to.
Wilson added: “Things like art are considered a luxury and, when economic times get tough, typically a luxury good is one of the very first items of discretionary spending that people elect not to spend their money on.
“When the economy gets difficult, art is one of the industries that feels it first.”
Items are still being sold online through the Northern Images website, while the building downtown will be put up for sale.