Opening week, some shoppers strolled Swanson's just looking. Others stocked up. Employees seemed to be beside themselves.

"My mouth was wide open," said night manager Barbara Haroldsen, wearing a green kuspuk and taking in the scene not long after getting to work on opening day. "I was stunned and joyful at the same time." Haroldsen said she never expected Swanson's would change so completely.

"I'm just awestruck because it's so beautiful and the variety is so great," said Arvin Dull, 57, who was born and raised in Bethel but travels a lot. Swanson's rivals any store, said Dull, a former bank manager who now manages property. He stopped by to pick up a quick to-go lunch and look around.

Nellie Alexie, 35, and Cheryl Andrew, 25, flew in from Kongiganak, mainly to stock up.

"It feels like Fred Meyer or Walmart," said Andrew, who was hauling home five dozen eggs, a jumbo box of snacks, and a shipping box packed full. She saw the store under construction but said she still was surprised at how nice it turned out. Alexie said she liked the organization: "Things are easier to find."

The new Swanson's is part of a new $20 million complex called Kipusvik, Yup'ik for "place to buy things." Inside there's also a movie theater -- Bethel's first since the early 1980s -- called Suurvik Cinema. Suurvik is Yup'ik for "show hall."

Read more: An ambitious Bethel retail makeover changes what it means to shop in rural Alaska