The opening of Dollarama in Yellowknife, the franchise’s first foray into the North, was greeted with a sizeable crowd and plenty of excitement on Saturday morning.
By the time the store opened its doors at 9am, at least 100 people had gathered outside. Shoppers applauded and were greeted by smiling staff as they entered.
Jake Flanagan was among the first inside.
“It’s the hottest event of the year. It’s Yellowknife,” Flanagan told Cabin Radio, adding craft supplies, beauty products and household items were on their shopping list.
Manon Leclerc – originally from Quebec, where Dollarama is based and opened its first store in the 90s – said she was hoping to buy items for her students at École St Joseph School.
“It’s my top shop,” she said, “I’m very happy.”
Harper Strong was one of the younger members of the crowd. With the store opening the day before her seventh birthday, she looked forward to buying party supplies and toys.
“We never got to go in a Dollarama for a whole year,” she said.
But residents flocking to Dollarama is more than just zeal for a flashy store with a familiar name. It’s a sign of the times.
Several of the store’s first customers said a franchise offering goods at cheaper prices is particularly attractive in the North, where everything from power and housing to groceries is often more expensive than elsewhere in Canada.
Flanagan said that was “definitely a huge factor” in their excitement for Dollarama to open in Yellowknife.
“If you can save even a couple dollars on household stuff, or hobby things, it makes a big difference when it adds up.”
Jolin Carter, who was particularly impressed by the selection of snacks in the store, agreed.
He said the store’s prices have “a big impact, with how expensive things are right now.”
Depending on where you work, research suggests full-time wages may not be enough to cover the cost of living in the North.
A study published by social justice non-profit Alternatives North this year estimates that to make a living wage, a parent in a family of four would have to earn $23.28 an hour in Yellowknife, $21.32 in Hay River, $22.59 in Inuvik, and $17.81 in Fort Smith.
An additional study, focused on 19 smaller communities, estimated a “reasonable wage” would range from $17.61 an hour in Fort Providence to $24.90 an hour in Sachs Harbour. The territory’s minimum wage is $15.20.
A 2020 report card by the non-profit detailed a stark contrast between the “haves and the have-nots” in the NWT. It noted those working in government and the natural resources sector have the highest-paying and most secure jobs in the territory, while many workers in the sales and service industry struggle to maintain basic living standards.
Overall, the report said the territory was “failing” to address poverty.
Plenty of employers are hiring in the North. Whether those jobs are attractive to potential employees, however, depends on factors like pay, location, the availability of affordable and suitable housing, and workplace culture.
The territory reached an employment rate of 73.7 percent in March, the highest recorded since August 2013. Employers in sectors like construction, telecommunications, restaurants and healthcare say they are struggling to fill vacancies.
While Dollarama is new to Yellowknife, it’s not the city’s first nor only dollar store.
The Loony Gallery, located in Centre Square Mall downtown, offers discount items ranging from toys and household items to party supplies and accessories. It also sells items that cater to northerners, like furs and a wide selection of beads.
Reached earlier this week, the owner of the Loony Gallery declined an interview with Cabin Radio for this report.