At Mountain View Sports, the hunting and fishing shop in South Anchorage, John Staser said Black Friday used to be a bigger deal, before more national chains came to town.
Nothing has hit his business as hard as stores like Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops moving in and divvying up the retail pie, said Staser, who co-owns the store. It's been "traumatic, to say the least," he said. The business has had to adapt to stack up to outdoor store Goliaths and the internet.
"We've always had a hard time putting resources into advertising Black Friday when you have to compete with so many stores," he said. "We don't make as big a push on Black Friday (as in the past), but this year we started our sale two weeks ahead of time."
People might not be lining up outside small Anchorage retailers on Friday morning in the frigid weather, but some of those businesses are finding unique ways to stay competitive on the day after Thanksgiving, or at least try to. That means building a niche, offering next-level expertise and service, or pinning success on becoming an important part of the community.
Mountain View Sports has somewhat reinvented itself, Staser said, offering only high-end name brands. The store has long had a policy of matching any price on items customers find cheaper elsewhere. Two years ago, it started matching prices on what people could find online, too — even on Amazon. The shop will also do special orders for customers.
"When you're talking 130,000 square feet versus 4,500, it's a little difficult to carry everything they have, our big-box competitors," Staser said. Making special orders "helps us with the selection."
SkiAK, in Midtown, has built a niche for itself as a go-to place in town for alpine skis. Even on Black Friday, the shop doesn't face much competition, said co-owner Becky Sell. Outdoor retail giant REI is closing its stores the day after Thanksgiving for the third year in a row doesn't hurt, either.
"We're kind of our own little locomotive, just chugging along," Sell said.
Still, she notices the tire-kickers who come in, spend an hour and a half with a bootfitter only to go make their actual purchase online. SkiAK tries to counter that by including services, like mounting bindings on skis, in sales.
Other entrepreneurs have come to terms with the fact that Black Friday is a day on which they cannot measure up, whether Alaska is in a recession or not. Downtown's Circular Boutique opened its doors on Black Friday 10 years ago, when owner Kim Stalder figured it made sense to debut while people were already out shopping.
Now, she said, it's impossible to compete with the internet and hard to draw the customers who flock to large retailers. She still does a Black Friday sale, but she's toying with the idea of keeping the doors closed on the day after Thanksgiving next year.
"Most people look at Black Friday as a big-box department store kind of event," she said. "I think on Black Friday, most of the folks who shop at my store don't even go out."
Katie Sevigny co-owns the art gallery and gift shop Sevigny Studio downtown and the boutique 7E Studio in South Anchorage. Most of her offerings are unique, but that doesn't necessarily give her an edge over chains. Black Friday is also a battle for consumer attention.
"It's more about time, and thinking about us," Sevigny said. "I'm learning over all these years we've been around that it's hard to compete with all this."
At GrassRoots, a fair trade store that sells clothes, home decor and more across from Northern Lights Center strip mall, co-owner Jill Dean said the day after Thanksgiving isn't huge for business, but it is more bustling than usual. Even if sales aren't massive, being open on Black Friday is still better than being closed.
"I don't think we can afford to miss a shopping day," Dean said. "Most local businesses are pretty shoestring."
The shop isn't hugely affected by online sales, she said, because many of its items aren't so easy to find on the internet.
Some small businesses aren't that interested in trying to attract the stereotypical frenzied Black Friday shopper, anyway.
"I don't believe in getting up at 5 a.m. to do anything the day after Thanksgiving," said Staser, at Mountain View Sports. "I believe in relaxing."
Still, he said he has never considered closing his doors the Friday after Thanksgiving. It continues to be a good day for business, even if it has evolved.
The day after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, is a bigger deal for some local retailers.
"It's more of a focus on what we do to contribute to the community," said Stalder, at Circular Boutique.
Sevigny makes it a point to donate a portion of her Small Business Saturday sales to a community organization each year (this year's is nonprofit Alaska Youth Advocates).
"I feel like it's a really good reminder for everyone to be mindful of their community," Sevigny said. "If it's something you can't find here, that's totally reasonable. But if you can find it here, then keep the money here."
Asked if she'd ever considered closing on Black Friday, Sevigny emphatically said no.
"That would be like letting them win," she said of the big chains. "I'm way too competitive for that."