Successive snowstorms and unplowed roads have forced many Anchorage businesses to temporarily shut down during the peak Christmas season, heaping new challenges on owners who were bouncing back from pandemic-related struggles.
Business owners across the city said the series of major storms has left many employees and customers snowbound on the worst days, forcing them to trim hours. Several shops also took full “snow days” after the second storm early this week blanketed parking lots, kept commuters off roads and shut down schools once again.
“Full transparency — the snow has sucked,” said Hannah Schruf, owner of Weather Boutique, a women’s contemporary clothing store in downtown. “The whole week has felt like a loss.”
Streetside parking last week outside the store went unplowed for days, reducing foot traffic inside, Schruf said Wednesday as a third big storm was bearing down on the city.
“People came by, saw they could barely park, and kept driving,” she said.
She closed the store Tuesday but offered an online sale with deep discounts, helping drum up business, she said. The roads were too unsafe for an employee to open that day, she said. The snow, and cold weather before that, has made for a difficult season.
“My fingers are crossed for next year at this point,” she said.
The storms have dropped more than 4 feet of snow across parts of Anchorage. Officials with the municipality, which plows most Anchorage neighborhood roads, and the state, which clears major arteries, have scrambled to keep roads clear. But a lack of resources has delayed snow removal. The shortages include a limited supply of drivers and mechanics to repair equipment.
Business owners reached for this article blamed what they called the unusual weather. Like Schruf, many are offering online deals and other specials to recover lost sales before Christmas.
Kara Kirkpatrick, co-owner at Dos Manos art gallery off Northern Lights Boulevard, said her SUV couldn’t make it through the unplowed snow on Monday in her Spenard-area neighborhood. Employees were also stuck at home. The store closed for the day.
“If we had had a sled dog team we would have opened,” she said.
To help catch up on sales, she said Dos Manos will close an hour later next week before Christmas, at 7 p.m each weekday.
“This has definitely slowed our business down, but it is what it is,” she said. “It bums me out, but we have zero control over the weather.”
Radhika Krishna, executive director of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, said the snowfall has had a “significant” impact on businesses. Multiple shops were closed downtown Monday, she said.
“December is supposed to be a month where a lot of business make a significant amount of revenue for the the year,” she said.
The closures are definitely impacting bottom lines, she said.
Bill Popp, president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., said the “snowmageddon” dumps and clogged roads have limited Christmas shopping for many people, he said.
“We need every driver, dump truck and every blade going, please, it’s the high season for Christmas, and I’m really concerned for businesses, especially the small mom-and-pops who will be really challenged if people aren’t comfortable driving in their cars,” he said.
“This is a crucial two weeks for businesses, so I just hope the city and state are not being hesitant about spending money and they’re getting as many contractors out there to work,” he said.
Lance Wilber, who oversees the municipality’s public works department and street maintenance, said the city is doing just that, including hiring extra contractors and scheduling staff overtime.
“We are doing our best to make sure our roads are plowed,” he said.
Tim Gravel, co-owner of Kaladi Brothers Coffee, said the company reduced hours at shops around town and consolidated staff to make it through the worst days.
The weather added a new complication to the staffing shortages that arose during the pandemic, which have been improving, he said. One key issue: teenaged staff at Kaladi whose parents rightfully prevented them from driving on hazardous roads, he said.
“We’ve had a lot of snow in a 10-day period,” he said. “I lived here 30-something years and I haven’t seen this.”
The Spice and Tea Exchange near O’Malley Road in South Anchorage closed on Monday to make sure workers stayed off the streets, said owner Liz Eldridge.
The store is doing more online sales and seeing steady in-store business when roads begin to clear, she said. Inflation is helping sales, too, since many customers are looking for small, practical items like tea for gifts, she said. And another plus: Supply chain issues that slowed shipping during the pandemic have largely eased.
Still, the sprawling storms have had a “huge impact” on sales, while a busy flu season is keeping some people home, she said.
“We are having our own perfect storm as it were,” she said. “But we opened in a recession in 2016, saw damage in the earthquake (in 2018), and after the last two years of COVID, we have nowhere to go but up.”
The Tiny Gallery in downtown Anchorage also closed Monday, after owner Laurette Rose realized she couldn’t leave her driveway in the Sand Lake area because there was too much snow.
The gallery, with locally made creations like ceramics, plans a “snowpocalypse sale” this weekend to generate business, she said.
“Maybe this season will be a shorter one and people will cram all their shopping into the week before Christmas,” she said. “It would have been better if this had happened in January, but it’s Alaska, it happens.”
Janet Gregory, owner of Over the Rainbow Toys in South Anchorage near Huffman Road, has had good sales in-store and online, though foot traffic is notably down on the stormiest days, she said.
“We are selling a lot of sleds and kid’s snow shovels, I can tell you that,” she said.
But the store has closed early a couple of days, after only a limited number of staff were able to make it through the snow.
“This is just life in Alaska,” she said. “It’s the price of being here.”