Trinette Dauti said the recent heavy snowfalls and a lack of quick snowplowing in her Anchorage neighborhood caused her to miss four days of work. Her Chevy Trailblazer couldn’t cut through the deep snow.
The Firetap Alehouse and Restaurant manager said her street in Independence Park was left unplowed for multiple days. Several other workers were also snowbound in their neighborhoods during the storms, forcing the South Anchorage restaurant to shut its doors on Nov. 9 and 13, she said.
As of Tuesday, the restaurant was back to steady hours. But the lost income for her and her co-workers, and for Firetap, came at a hard time with Christmas around the corner, she said.
“It breaks you,” she said. “And you feel especially bad for all the employees. I’m not mad. It snowed and it is what it is. But it’s disheartening.”
Several Anchorage business owners interviewed for this story described similar problems that forced them to trim hours or temporarily close, after two major storms over a handful of days dumped well over 2 1/2 feet of snow on some parts of Anchorage.
Some owners were quick to credit the municipality for clearing the roads faster than they did last December, when another succession of big snowstorms also compromised roads and hurt businesses.
And some downtown businesses this year credited Anchorage Downtown Partnership for quickly clearing sidewalks.
But one downtown business this week launched a petition to look for solutions after sidewalk-clearing crews pushed snow into street parking areas, creating piles that didn’t get cleared by municipal snowplows for days, limiting customers’ access to the store.
Radhika Krishna, executive director of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, said Thursday that her group and the municipality have worked together closely this winter to get snow removed from downtown as quickly as possible.
She said she’ll keep working with the municipality, businesses downtown and other entities to try to continually improve snow removal in that area in preparation for the next big snowstorm.
“Everyone is working as hard and as fast as they can,” she said. “We’re all going to a learn a lot from this experience.”
A variety of challenges for businesses
Mayor Dave Bronson acknowledged that the municipality diverted some of its crews and equipment to help clear state-maintained roads in Anchorage, for safety reasons for emergency vehicles.
That slowed the plowing response in some neighborhoods.
“It’s been a real struggle. I am completely sympathetic,” the mayor said in a Facebook live video, noting his wife was among the many people who became stuck trying to leave their neighborhood. “... It’s winter, it’s Alaska. This is a challenge — I know that’s no consolation for the folks who are trying to get to work, trying to figure out if their kids are going to go to school or not. But at the end of the day, this is an epic snowfall.”
The unattended snow on side streets created numerous complications for businesses and employees.
Some workers, especially those with small cars, had trouble getting out of their neighborhoods. Others couldn’t get to work because the People Mover bus system shut down for multiple days, they said. Some employees had to stay home watching children, after the district closed school for four days, providing remote learning. Product deliveries were compromised when service trucks couldn’t navigate the roads.
“Employees have been struggling to get to work for a variety of reasons,” said Jenna Wright, president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. “I think the weather is to blame first and foremost. We just broke the snowiest November on record.”
Chris Wilson, vice president of Subway of Alaska, said the chain was forced to close one shop last week and reduce hours at others when employees couldn’t make it to work because of the snow. The Subway business operates 21 stores in the greater Anchorage area.
Wilson said the snow removal response citywide was inadequate, though he stopped short of blaming any particular entity. He was just glad that employees who could arrived at work safely, he said.
“The team without a doubt experienced major issues getting around, especially on the bus system that a lot of our staff rely on,” he said. “When it’s canceled or sidewalks are not plowed where they can get to the bus station safely, it’s always an issue.”
The Subways likely saw revenue fall because of the reduced hours and fewer walk-ins, he said. Sales from deliveries might have been a bright spot as snowed-in customers ordered from home.
Big Ray’s, a clothing outfitter with two Anchorage locations, was forced to close its Midtown store early on two days because enough employees couldn’t make it in, said Roy Roam, a manager.
That hurt business during stormy weather, a typically strong time for the supplier of cold weather gear, he said.
“It seems like a lot of my staffing are in apartment complexes or whatnot, so if their communities aren’t plowed, it’s hard for them to get out,” he said.
Compliments and criticism downtown
In downtown, some business owners said this past week’s snow clearing was an improvement on last winter’s.
But Originale, an Italian sandwich shop in downtown, said it lost business in part because snow removal from the street didn’t occur quickly, said Cintia Elhard, an owner of the shop.
The deli created a petition, posted on its Facebook page, to raise awareness about the problem and to look for solutions, she said. The Anchorage Downtown Partnership crews cleared snow from sidewalks outside the business during the storm on Nov. 13, she said. But they sent the snow into D Street, blocking parking spaces, she said.
Municipal crews didn’t plow the street and street parking until more than two days later, she said.
“Leaving downtown roads full of snow and leaving street parking lots unusable for usually 2-3 days equates to very little revenue,” the petition said.
Circular Boutique signed the petition after snow was piled into street parking along Sixth Avenue outside her shop for three days, preventing some customers from stopping, said owner Kim Stalder.
Stalder said Anchorage Downtown Partnership was responsive in recent days as she raised concerns. She said on Friday morning, the partnership’s crews cleared the street parking, an extra step since that’s usually the municipality’s job.
“They’re going to town,” she said of the workers outside her window.
Krishna, with the partnership, said the group will continue to seek solutions for downtown snow management and other concerns.
“Our job is to be a voice for downtown businesses and to listen to them,” she said. “And we’re always looking to listen and learn and to work with the appropriate authorities and partners to try and find solutions to make downtown better and cleaner and safer.”
Laile Fairbairn — managing member of several Anchorage restaurants, including Snow City Cafe in downtown — said she thought the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and city plowing crews did a good job this year, along with the Anchorage Community Development Authority, which also works on snow-clearing issues.
“I know everyone is dogging on the city, but downtown is much better than last year,” she said. “It felt like things were taken care of faster, and it felt like everyone was really responsive to our feedback that we gave last year.”
Fairbairn said the restaurants she oversees, which also include Spenard Roadhouse, did not have to reduce hours during the storms.
Some employees couldn’t make it to work, but staff with bigger vehicles drove around picking up trapped colleagues.
“We’ve been really lucky,” Fairbairn said. “Our manager says at most, some deliveries have been late, but we haven’t been shorted on anything.”
Nina Bonito Romine, an owner of The Kobuk coffee and gift shop in downtown, said she appreciated the efforts by the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and snowplow crews. They did their best considering the large snowfalls, she said.
Some employees and customers were stranded by the unplowed snow in neighborhoods, so the store closed two days during the storms, hurting business, she said.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s winter,” she said. “We hope for lessons learned.”