Business/Economy

Anchorage retailers scramble to prepare for holiday shopping season, with continuing supply and labor challenges

Anchorage retailers say their shelves are generally full as Black Friday and the holiday shopping season nears. But global supply chain snarls have led to spot shortages of everything from boots to toys to Christmas ornaments, and higher prices in some cases.

And those are just some of the complications.

Shops that ordered their products early this year as a precaution said they’re suddenly getting flooded with merchandise, months late. Store owners are scrambling to get items onto sales floors, often working overtime because they can’t find enough employees during the pandemic-induced labor shortage.

Some popular products could disappear before Christmas without the opportunity for new shipments to Alaska.

“It’s exhausting,” said Liz Dean, co-owner of the GrassRoots Fair Trade Store in Spenard.

The store typically gets much of its annual income from the holidays, she said. But it faces challenges that could dent sales this year, she said.

[Black Friday 2021: Here’s how to snag the best deals]

In stock are plenty of jewelry, clothing and other artisan handicrafts from developing countries around the world.

But some products haven’t arrived, including Christmas tree ornaments from India, an area that’s been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dean said.

“It’s harder to get everything these days,” she said.

And the store has only a fraction of the workers it needs. Fewer Alaskans are applying for jobs, she and other retailers said.

“It’s terrifying going into the season with so many unknowns, and relying for so much from so few people,” she said.

The Blue and Gold Boardshop in South Anchorage is also full of snowboards and other gear after items ordered months ago arrived recently, said owner Jason Borgstede.

Borgstede has been working most nights until 3 a.m. to process merchandise.

[What time will stores open on Thanksgiving and Black Friday?]

But many styles haven’t arrived. He has fewer snowboarding boots on hand than he needs. They’re typically made in Vietnam, and manufacturers there have faced delays due to the pandemic, he said. Bottled-up marine shipments to the West Coast have added to the problem.

“It’s pretty drastic,” he said.

Black Friday will be stressful, but in a good way, he said.

“We won’t have everything we always have, but we have lots of stuff, and we’ll help people to get what they need and have a good time,” he said. “I could have a bad attitude or get down about it, but stuff won’t get here any faster.”

[Alaska Christmas tree sellers say they’re mostly well stocked, but with fewer options and higher prices]

Big box stores such as Target and Walmart have announced that they’re well stocked for the holidays, said Bill Popp, president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

He said many stores are dealing with staffing challenges, making a typically busy season even busier for owners and managers, he said.

On the positive side, Popp said he’s hearing that Alaskans are shopping early out of concern that some items will go quickly, he said.

“There’s a lot of optimism among owners that they’ll have a better season than last year,” he said.

Classic Toys in Midtown Anchorage is seeing more early-bird shoppers, helping boost sales by 30% above last year, said Ben Jarratt, an owner. People may have more savings this year, or they’re just getting out more, tired of staying home during the pandemic, he speculated.

On the other hand, the store is paying about 10% more for its toys because of the shipping costs. It’s generally absorbing the expense, he said.

Once some items run out, it could be hard to get more before Christmas, he said. The store is selling different versions of the fan-inflated AirForts for kids. But the popular UFO version might soon be gone and hard to replace, he said.

[Target says it will keep stores closed on Thanksgiving from this year on]

“I think we’re sitting in a good place at this point, but if people start shopping on the 15th of December, they’ll be limited to what’s available,” he said.

Many Anchorage retailers, including Blue and Gold Boardshop, said they’ll be offering specials on Small Business Saturday, a national trend that encourages local shopping after Black Friday.

The event is often a bigger sales day than Black Friday for ShuzyQ, a shoe boutique in South Anchorage, said Dawn Walsh, the store’s owner.

The boutique is located inside Mountain View Sports, an outdoor gear and apparel retailer. Starting Friday, the two stores are temporarily offering gift certificates on $50 purchases and higher, Walsh said.

ShuzyQ has faced a variety of supply glitches, she said. A zipper manufacturer in Europe closed indefinitely because of COVID-19 illnesses, affecting the availability of some shoes, Walsh said.

[On the road again: Travelers emerge in time for Thanksgiving]

ShuzyQ’s top sellers, European-made Attiba boots with retractable ice cleats, are months late, too, she said.

ShuzyQ’s has a huge customer wait list for the boots, which should begin arriving in early December, Walsh said.

The store still has plenty of other boots and shoes, she said.

Products made in North America haven’t had the supply problems like merchandise from Asia and Europe, she said.

Once products reach ports in Washington state, it’s been smooth sailing to Alaska on marine shipping lines, officials have said.

“North American products have saved us a bit,” Walsh said.

Bosco’s comics, cards and games store in Spenard and the Dimond Center mall won’t hold a sale on Black Friday like it used to, said John Weddleton, owner and an Anchorage Assembly member.

He wants to keep crowds down, so the stores don’t contribute to higher COVID-19 case numbers.

“It’s so frustrating, but it seems right,” he said. “I don’t want to cause a spreader event.”

Pokémon collector cards are popular again this year, he said. But the plastic sleeves they fit into were harder to find than usual, and more expensive, he said.

Collectible Funko Pop figures are another popular item, and the store hasn’t been able to get as many of those as it normally would.

“It’s a shame because they’re a great gift,” Weddleton said.

SkiAK in Midtown Anchorage has recently been getting orders that arrived months late, and racks are full.

“But there’s a couple of brands that we’re still waiting on,” said owner Russell Sell.

“It’s been a challenge to say the least,” he said. “But I’ve got plenty of gear, no question about that.”

It’s been a hectic year for the business.

More people have taken up skiing and other outdoor activities during the pandemic. It’s a trend that’s expected to continue during the holidays, he said.

“We’ll be busy, no doubt about it,” he said.

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