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Tim Hortons sets sights on Nunavut Add to ...

Whenever Iqaluit Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik returns home from a trip to southern Canada, she brings back a gift for friends and family: a few dozen Timbits.

"I'm not allowed to get off the plane unless I have four dozen Tim Hortons doughnuts," said Ms. Sheutiapik, who also runs a local coffee shop. "The ladies at Tim Hortons at the Ottawa airport know me well enough that they call me 'trouble' because they know that they are going to have to prep four dozen for me."

The sight of passengers carrying the company's yellow boxes is common on almost all flights to Iqaluit. But travellers may not have to lug the boxes much longer. Tim Hortons is considering opening an outlet in the Nunavut capital, filling the only gap in its national chain.

A company official recently visited Iqaluit to scout possible locations and while nothing is certain, the community is buzzing with the news, which was the lead story in the local paper, the Nunatsiaq News.

"I love it in the south when I am there", said Chris West, who is president of the local chamber of commerce and a manager at Qikiqtaaluk Corp. "I think Tim Hortons would do well here."

But Mr. West and others cautioned that Iqaluit has been tough on fast-food chains before.

A Subway restaurant closed several years ago in part because the sandwiches became too pricey, costing as much as $26 for a foot-long sub. The city currently has only one fast-food outlet - a combined KFC-Pizza Hut - but it has a limited menu and stopped selling buckets of chicken after residents balked at paying $59 for 20 pieces.

"I stop at every Tims when I am in the south and I don't mind paying, say, $2 for a cup of coffee," Mr. West said. "But if it comes here and it's $3, I wouldn't pay it. I'm not that great of a fan."

Several national clothing store chains have faced similar failure because of the high cost of doing business, said Ms. Sheutiapik.

David Morelli, a Tim Hortons spokesman, confirmed the company's interest in Iqaluit but he said nothing has been finalized.

"Tim Hortons regularly scouts locations in Canada and the United States for potential new business locations that fit our brand profile, including a recent trip in the spring to Canada's north," he said in an e-mail yesterday. "However, no decisions have been made or are imminent."

Tim Hortons has close to 3,000 outlets across Canada, in every province and territory except Nunavut.

Mr. Morelli said the company takes several factors into account when considering a new location. "For smaller, stand-alone communities, it's largely population and demographics. For more urban areas, it's primarily demographics and proximity to high traffic counts (on foot or motorized)," he wrote.

Tim Hortons has stores in Yellowknife and Whitehorse, but both cities are much larger than Iqaluit. Its population is 7,200 compared with around 18,000 in Yellowknife and 25,000 in Whitehorse.

But Iqaluit and Nunavut have been among the fastest-growing parts of Canada in recent years and the population is younger on average than the rest of the country. The city's economy is also dominated by the government sector, making it largely insulated from boom and bust cycles.

The arrival of a Tim Hortons would present a dilemma for Ms. Sheutiapik. While she'd be thrilled to have local access to Timbits, she'd have a powerful competitor for her coffee shop, the Grind & Brew.

"Competition is good," she said noting that her restaurant is the oldest coffee shop in the city. "Different people have different tastes."

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