Quiet Christmas Day in Anchorage has a couple of hotspots

Benjamin S. Brasch

Digital signs flashing a red "Merry Christmas" to almost no one. A pair of snow-covered boots slung over a power line in Fairview. Deflated red and green balloons lying near the entrance of Ben Boeke Ice Arena.

Anchorage was quiet on Christmas Day, with a few exceptions.

One was Red Apple, buzzing with chaos throughout the day. The grocery in Mountain View saw lines 20 shoppers deep, all wearing a different shade of the same worn-out expression on their faces.

The store opened at 7 a.m., and with Carrs, Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart closed for Christmas, the Mountain View grocery was the biggest game in town.

"I've never known Wal-Mart to be closed," said shopper Frank Brown, 28.

Brown drove to Wal-Mart and called Carrs before he remembered that Red Apple was open.

He was picking up groceries because he received a last-minute RSVP from a guest for Christmas dinner.

He said he wasn't expecting the extra person at his low-key Christmas dinner of steak, green beans and salad, so he had to run out to grab more food.

Adrian Alexie, 35, was at the store readying herself to host a family dinner of 30.

She was making the standard American fare of roast turkey, ham and beef ribs, but the Yup'ik and Puerto Rican sides of her family demanded she make muktuk and caribou along with plantains, tostones and rice with pigeon peas.

Alexie said she has never had to wait behind 10 people at the store before.

"This is whack," she said.

One the other side of town, people were waiting even longer just for a free cup of coffee.

At Midnight Sun Espresso on Dimond Boulevard, Chris Manculich was with his daughter and another barista serving up complimentary cups of coffee to familiar faces.

"We'll see you in the morning, Val," Manculich, a 37-year-old manager, shouted to a regular.

The coffee shack started serving free coffee on Christmas nine years ago when baristas asked the owner, Manculich's father, to stay open so patrons could get their coffee, he said.

"When he heard that, he said 'I'm not going to make money on Christmas!' " Manculich said.

While baristas volunteer to work for free on Christmas Day, they end up working about 4 hours and walking away with between $200 and $300 in tips, said Kari Hartz, a 27-year-old barista.

The top three baristas of the year get first dibs on the lucrative shifts, she said.

One regular gave Hartz a $100 bill this year, she said.

Beyond money, the everyday customers bring fudge, artisan bread and homemade dreamcatchers for the staff working Christmas.

Manculich said he knew about 80 percent of the almost 600 drivers who stopped by the stand this Christmas. Those he didn't know came because they're attracted by the long lines at one of the only coffee stands open in Anchorage.

After hours of handing out coffee with her father, Aubrey Manculich, 15, said she and her father planned on seeing "Anchorman 2" and relaxing with family.

People all over Anchorage were spending time with family and friends. On a frozen Jewel Lake, two people were skiing with their black dog. Across the lake, two ex-convicts were trying to drill a 17-inch-deep hole to go ice fishing.

Jason Chernikoff and Isaac Bob are both in Chanlyut, a 2-year program to help men start fresh after serving jail time or managing substance abuse issues. The men live in a Mountain View house with about 15 others in the program.

Chernikoff, 28, was arrested on multiple gun, theft and assault charges before entering the program 3 months ago.

Bob, 46, said he spent 26 years in jail after being convicted in 1985 for murdering an Alakanuk police officer as a juvenile. He joined the program in May.

Chanlyut gave the men gifts on Christmas Eve and they both got new clothing.

Because the men have behaved so well, Chernikoff said, they were allowed to go ice fishing for Christmas.

Because he hasn't been able to connect with his 4-year-old daughter, Chernikoff said, spending the holiday season with those at the program meant a lot to him.

"They help me keep myself from doing the wrong things," he said. "It's great to be out on Christmas."

Reach Benjamin Brasch at bbrasch@adn.com or 257-4349. Twitter: twitter.com/ben_brasch