Alaska Life

Curious Alaska: Amid all the quirky things for sale at the state fair, what’s with hot tubs?

Curious Alaska is a weekly feature powered by your questions. What do you want to know or want us to investigate about life in Alaska, stories behind the news or why things are the way they are? Let us know in the form at the bottom of the story.

Question: What’s the deal with hot tubs being sold at the state fair?

There are so many things a person can buy at the Alaska State Fair.

A grain of rice with your girlfriend’s name etched on it. A “Don’t Tread On Me” lapel pin. A Peruvian poncho. Locally grown beets. “Toy Tow,” a membership insurance program to rescue “off-road toys” when they break down in the wilderness. Ten minutes in a virtual reality headset. A pillow shaped like an AK-47. A photo with a pair of languorous sled dogs. A medical grade deep-tissue massage gun. A baseball cap that says “Daddy.”

A $20,000 hot tub.

Nobody seems to know quite how they got there, but hot tubs have been a fixture at the Alaska State Fair for decades. If they seem like a high-dollar item to buy between curly fries and the roller coaster, they are. But salespeople swear a surprising number of fairgoers take the plunge.

And not just in Alaska — hot tubs are sold at state fairs around the country. According to the industry publication HotTub Insider, the connection makes sense. Often appearing at home shows and other expos, spa retailers “carved out a little niche over time” by renting booths year after year at fairs, creating an expectation of a hot tub market for customers to compare and shop.

This year, two hot tub purveyors set up shop at the Alaska State Fair. There have been more in the past.

Under a blue tent, an $11,000, seven-seat hot tub with lights and a stereo steamed, a Post Malone song lilting through the air.

Charles Stockdell is a sales rep for Arctic Home Living. Fairs have a lot going for them as a place to sell hot tubs: People are with their families, so decision makers are together. “They see it and think, oh, that’d be nice,” he said.

Sometimes he’ll see partners give each other a little look, wordlessly negotiating about the purchase. Some people take longer to move on the sale, but he’s seen plenty of people plunk down a credit card for a deposit that can be $10,000.

Stockdell said he’s sold between 40 and 50 hot tubs at the Alaska State Fair so far this year.

Hot tubs are not the only big-ticket items Alaskans feel comfortable purchasing at the fair. Garry Greenwalt works for Alaska Motorsports and Equipment, presiding over a yard of snowmachines and tractors.

People enjoying the fair don’t usually decide to purchase a piece of farm equipment that costs as much as a down payment on a house, he said.

“They don’t generally pull the trigger right away,” he said. But some do: He’s working on a sale, made at the fair, of a $20,000 piece of equipment.

In Alaska, the timing of the fair just makes sense, said Kali Bennett, the second-generation owner of The Waterworks, a spa, sauna and swimming pool store with locations in Anchorage and Eagle River. Late August and early September are exactly when Alaskans’ thoughts turn to the impending arrival of a long, cold winter.

“Alaskans realize it’s getting cold and they want to be warm,” she said.

Bennett remembers her family working the fair when she was a child. Sometimes they’d jump in a filled hot tub and talk with customers walking by. She hopped in a hot tub at her booth just the other day, when it was pouring rain and the fair traffic was quiet.

It was kind of magical, she said.


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