Iqaluit queues for booze reflect uptick in record holiday sales

Director of the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission says changes are on the way to help reduce wait times.

Long wait times and spike in sales for December 2020

Line for the Iqaluit beer and wine store on Dec. 31, 2020. (David Gunn/CBC)

The Iqaluit beer and wine store sold more alcohol over the holidays in 2020 than the previous year — and the holiday rush left some residents waiting out in the cold. 

For the month of December the store sold $947,000 worth of alcohol — a nine per cent increase from December 2019, which saw $868,000 worth of product sold. 

Daniel Young, director of the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission, says population growth and the store moving out of the pilot project phase contributed to the increase in sales. 

"A lot of people have more faith in the store now being a permanent fixture, less people are bringing in beer and wine on sea lift," said Young. "And I guess another part of it is a lot less people traveled south for the holiday like we have seen in the past." 

In December, the beer and wine store sold 222,231 cans and bottles of beer. That's 6,464 more cans than in December 2019. 

The biggest difference was in the sale of coolers, increasing 41 per cent this year. For the month of December the beer and wine store sold 18,423 cans of coolers compared to just 13,086 sold in 2019. 

However, Young attributes this to the store having a bigger selection of coolers than they had in previous years. 

The beer and wine store also recently started selling three litre boxes instead of just bottles. Though the number of bottles and boxes sold was down from December 2019 the quantity of wine in litres was up. 

In December, 786 litres of wine were sold — an eight per cent increase over December 2019.

Wait times were over an hour during the holidays to get into the beer and wine store. The line on Dec. 31, 2020. (David Gunn/CBC)

Wait times over an hour outside

But with the increase in sales, a line to get into the beer and wine store frequently went out the door and down the street. 

Many people wait over an hour just to get in the door. 

Young says they are aware of the problem with the line and are working on solutions to try and help, such as adding an extra till that would be used during busy hours. 

"The pitch we try to make to everyone is to plan ahead to avoid lines. There are times when you can walk right in, basically to the counter, and purchase," said Young. 

"That's not very helpful when it is already a holiday and you need to buy something from our store and there is a line. But that is the best course of action." 

Daniel Young is the director of Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Changes to come

Young says they are limited by the size of the building but are looking at regulator changes. 

The beer and wine store needs to follow regulations in the Liquor Act. Right now, there are limits set on how much alcohol one person can buy a day. 

Young says raising the limit is a consideration but not something they were considering while the store was still a pilot project. 

"Some people think our limits are already too high and some people think they are too low," said Young. 

In June, Finance Minister George Hickes announced the store would become a permanent fixture. 

The store is meant to reduce hard alcohol consumption, encourage responsible drinking and combat bootlegging. 

Right now, limits are set so a single person can purchase up to 24 cans or bottles of beer or coolers, or up to four bottles of wine or one three liter box. Combinations can include two bottles of wine and 12 cans, or three bottles of wine and six cans. 


Jackie McKay


Jackie McKay is a Métis journalist working for CBC in Nunavut. She has worked as a reporter in Thunder Bay, Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. Jackie also worked on CBC Radio One shows including The Current, Metro Morning, after graduating from Ryerson University in 2017. Follow her on Twitter @mckayjacqueline.