Laurence J. Carr, the one-time godfather of the Anchorage grocery business, has died at the age of 81.
A pioneer grocer, Carr in 1974 teamed with real-estate developer Barney Gottstein to form Carr-Gottstein Co. Inc. The duo promptly set about building a supermarket dynasty. By 1990, they owned a statewide chain of 13 high-volume food and drug stores, and dominated the grocery business in Anchorage. So strong was their business model that it, for a time, scared national grocers away from Alaska.
Safeway, a national grocery giant, opened what was to be a model store for its chain near a Carrs in South Anchorage in the 1980s. The store didn't survive long because it couldn't compete with the nearby Carrs. Safeway finally decided that the only way it was going to get into the Alaska market was to spend in a big way. The company eventually bought Carrs-Gottstein, but left the Carrs name on many stories in recognition of the strength of the brand.
It was tribute to a man who came to Alaska in 1947 as an 18 year old and opened his first grocery only three years later in a Quonset hut, a then normal, post-War structure in Anchorage. Through hard work, Carr grew the business, and began expanding. It was there the man known to friends simply as Larry met Gottstein, a real-estate developer. The marriage of their business interests produced one of Alaska's great success stories.
Born July 28, 1929 in California, Carr was among the first wave of modern-day immigrants to Alaska to find outsize success in business. He was elected to the Alaska Business Hall of Fame in 1988. The Anchorage Chamber of Commerce that same year presented him with the Bob Hartig Memorial Award for Distinguished Individual Community Service. In 1992 the University of Alaska Anchorage recognized his contributions to Alaska by bestowing him a Doctor of Laws, the university's highest honor.
An unsuccessful candidate for Alaska governor in 1970, Carr was voted Alaskan of the Year in 1984. He served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of Alaska Pacific University from 1981 to 1995 and was instrumental in keeping that institution alive. When he left the board, he started the APU Endowment which he chaired for many years. He served on the APU university foundation up until his death.
Carr was a staunch advocate for a school first chartered as Alaska Methodist University by the Territory of Alaska in 1957. Once an Anchorage educational focal paint, APU has been overshadowed by the University of Alaska Anchorage in recent years, but continues to struggle forward. The school has in recent years grabbed not only state but national and international attention with the development of the APU Nordic Ski Program, which boasts a number of U.S. Olympic athletes.
Along with the successful Carrs-Safeway supermarkets in Anchorage, that legacy appears destined to live on. Carr is survived by his wife, Wilma; son Gregory; daughter Jacqueline; and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son Brian.
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com