ECONOMIC After a year of inflation plus snowstorm impacts, Anchorage...

After a year of inflation plus snowstorm impacts, Anchorage stores seek a boost this holiday season

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Anchorage store owners said they’re hoping this weekend’s Small Business Saturday will kick off a strong holiday shopping frenzy, helping sales recover from a challenging year of big snowstorms, high inflation and other factors.

Hannah Schruf, owner of the Weather Boutique downtown, highlighted the concerns for small businesses on an Instagram post this week.

“This week could be make or break for some of us,” she said, calling on customers to support local businesses this season.

Schruf said Friday she’s hopeful for a rebound this season.

She said the shop-local trend gained steam during the early days of the pandemic, when Weather Boutique opened. But that has now slowed.

Inflation is easing but still high, and some people are prioritizing groceries and bills over things like clothing, she said. Also, small businesses like hers endured closures and reduced hours during big recent snowstorms, adding to the challenges, she said.

“It’s been a tough year,” she said. “There was a really big push to support small businesses after the pandemic and the fire under that burned out, the stimulus money burned out, and inflation took everyone out. Then winter in Alaska isn’t always super fun to drive around in.”

But November and December are usually strong months, she said.

“I’m hopeful,” she said. “This is a weekend a lot of people are looking forward to, and it hopefully will set off the gift-shopping trajectory.”

Other Anchorage business owners said they’re looking for a similar jump-start on Small Business Saturday, started by American Express about a dozen years ago. Many, like Weather Boutique, said they’re offering special deals to bring in customers.

Inflation and a high cost of living in Anchorage continued to eat into purchasing power this fall, said Jenna Wright, president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. The city is the fourth most expensive place to buy groceries out of 269 urban areas nationwide, she said.

The National Retail Federation estimates that growth in retail sales nationally during the holidays won’t be as strong as recent years when stimulus spending supported the economy, but it should be in line with the pre-pandemic growth rate.

That slower annual growth should hold true for Anchorage since it has faced some of the same major economic headwinds as the Lower 48 this year, including high interest rates that increase borrowing costs, Wright said.

The Alaska Small Business Development Center said in a statement this week that shopping locally can make a big difference in the state’s economy, leading to higher wages and more jobs.

If every household shifted $1,000 in spending from non-local to local businesses, it would add an estimated $103 million to the state’s economy and create 5,850 additional jobs, the center said, citing a 2021 report from the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development.

The Small Business Development Center created a BuyAlaska Holiday Gift Guide online, consisting of more than 75 businesses selling a variety of arts, food, clothing and other items.

The Anchorage Downtown Partnership also supported the event this weekend, creating an online map of local businesses downtown and offering a chance for customers at participating shops to win two round-trip tickets on Alaska Airlines.

Several Anchorage business owners said the annual Saturday shopping event has become a critical day when customers turn out to support local entrepreneurs. They say it rivals Black Friday, which across the U.S. remains the year’s biggest shopping day.

“I don’t even call it Black Friday now,” said Krystal Offord, who owns AK Cycle Chic off Northern Lights Boulevard. “It’s now small-business weekend, because Black Friday is for big box stores.”

Offord sells women’s cycling and outdoor activewear, along with some men’s items. She’s hoping strong holiday shopping will improve sales as the biking shoulder season ends — snow biking is picking up after mountain biking stopped, she said.

It’s been an OK year, she said.

Younger and older shoppers are choosing their purchases cautiously, sometimes waiting until payday before buying, she said. But customers in the middle, in their 40s or 50s who are perhaps in their peak earning years, still often spend freely, she said.

Her store is also seeing growing competition from big holiday markets at this time of year, where booths are often manned by homemade crafters in Alaska’s cottage industry.

“I feel like these markets are the new mall,” she said. “People are going there because they get multiple vendors in one market.”

“Not to disparage the makers,” she said. “I feature some of them here in my store. It’s just a trend I’m noticing.”

[In the wee hours, an Anchorage pastry chef finds reasons for gratitude]

Some shops on Friday said they were too busy to spare a few minutes for an interview.

Janet Gregory, owner of Over the Rainbow Toys in South Anchorage, said her sales went well this year.

“Life in toys is a happy place to be,” she said. “Inflation is way down, unemployment is down, and income is up.”

She expects to post good numbers this season, and said the store should bounce back from a closure one day during the recent snowstorms when employees couldn’t get to work, she said.

“We will make up those sales,” she said. “It was annoying, but it was the way it was.”

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