Successive blizzards and unploughed roads have forced many Anchorage businesses to temporarily close their doors during the busy Christmas season, presenting new challenges to owners recovering from the pandemic-related struggles.
Business owners across the city said the series of major storms has snowballed many employees and customers on the worst days, forcing them to cut hours. Several stores also took full “snow days” after the second storm covered parking lots, kept commuters off the road and closed schools again early this week.
“Full transparency — the snow has sucked,” says Hannah Schruf, owner of Weather Boutique, a downtown contemporary women’s clothing store. “The whole week felt like a loss.”
Street-side parking lots outside the store last week were unplowed for days, reducing foot traffic inside, Schruf said Wednesday as a third major storm swept across the city.
“People came by, saw they could barely park and drove on,” she said.
She closed the store on Tuesday but offered an online sale at deep discounts, which allowed her to gain more business, she said. The roads were too unsafe for an employee to open that day, she said. The snow and the cold weather before that made for a difficult season.
“Right now my fingers are crossed for next year,” she said.
The storms dropped more than four feet of snow in parts of Anchorage. Officials from the municipality, which plows most of the roads near Anchorage, and the state, which clears major thoroughfares, have been working to keep the roads clear. But a lack of resources has slowed snow removal. The shortages include a limited supply of drivers and mechanics to repair equipment.
Entrepreneurs reaching out to this article blamed what they called the unusual weather. Like Schruf, many offer online deals and other specials to recoup lost sales before Christmas.
Kara Kirkpatrick, co-owner of Dos Manos art gallery off Northern Lights Boulevard, said her SUV couldn’t get through the unploughed snow in her Spenard neighborhood on Monday. Employees were also confined to their homes. The store is closed that day.
“If we had a sled dog team, we would have opened up,” she said.
To catch up on sales, she said Dos Manos will close an hour later for Christmas next week, at 7 p.m. every weekday.
“This has certainly slowed our business down, but it is what it is,” she said. “I’m sorry, but we can’t control the weather.”
Radhika Krishna, executive director of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, said the snowfall has had a “significant” impact on businesses. Multiple stores were closed downtown on Monday, she said.
“December should be a month where many companies generate a significant amount of revenue for the year,” she said.
The closures are definitely impacting business results, she said.
Bill Popp, chairman of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., said the “snowmageddon” dumps and clogged roads have curtailed Christmas shopping for many people, he said.
“We need every driver, dump truck and every knife, please, it’s peak season before Christmas, and I’m really concerned about businesses, especially the little moms and dads who will be really challenged if people don’t get comfortable. drive their cars,” he said.
“These are two critical weeks for businesses, so I hope the city and state don’t hesitate to spend money and get as many contractors to work as possible,” he said.
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Lance Wilber, who oversees the council’s public works and street maintenance department, said the city is doing just that, including hiring additional contractors and scheduling staff overtime.
“We do our best to make sure our roads are plowed,” he said.
Tim Gravel, co-owner of Kaladi Brothers Coffee, said the company was reducing hours in stores across the city and consolidating staff to get through the worst days.
The weather added another complication to the staff shortages created during the pandemic, which has improved, he said. A key issue: Teenage workers in Kaladi whose parents rightly prevented them from driving on dangerous roads, he said.
“We’ve had a lot of snow in a 10-day span,” he said. “I’ve lived here 30 years and I haven’t seen this.”
The Spice and Tea Exchange near O’Malley Road in South Anchorage closed Monday to ensure workers stayed off the street, owner Liz Eldridge said.
The store is doing more online sales and will see steady in-store sales as roads begin to clear, she said. Inflation also helps sales, as many shoppers look for small, practical items like tea for gifts, she said. And another plus: Supply chain issues that slowed shipping during the pandemic have been largely reduced.
Still, the expanding storms have had a “huge impact” on sales, while a busy flu season is keeping some people at home, she said.
“We have our own perfect storm, so to speak,” she said. “But we opened in a recession in 2016, saw damage from the earthquake (in 2018) and after the last two years of COVID, we have nowhere to go but up.”
The Tiny Gallery in downtown Anchorage also closed Monday after owner Laurette Rose realized she couldn’t leave her driveway in the Sand Lake area because of too much snow.
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The gallery, featuring locally made creations such as ceramics, is planning a “snowpocalypse sale” this weekend to generate customers, she said.
“Maybe this season will be shorter and people will cram all their shopping into the week before Christmas,” she said. “It would have been better if this had happened in January, but it’s Alaska, it happens.”
Janet Gregory, owner of Over the Rainbow Toys in South Anchorage near Huffman Road, is having good sales in-store and online, though the number of visitors declines notably on the stormiest days, she said.
“We sell a lot of sleds and children’s snow shovels, I can tell you that,” she said.
But the store closed a few days earlier, after only a limited number of employees made it through the snow.
“This is just life in Alaska,” she said. “It’s the price of being here.”
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