The scene down College Road this morning looked surreal; flashing lights, packed parking lots, and people lined up outside the building. This was just 10:30 a.m. the day Sam’s Club in Fairbanks re-opened after the announcement that they would be closing the store in two weeks. Police cars blocked off entrances, cars were diverted to back entrances to avoid any crashes, and assure that people were not stealing carts from other businesses to “get to the goods” inside.
I learned later that the meats (verified gone by 2 pm) were marked 50% off, and everything else in the store was going for 25% off. The lines of people outside that circled around the building (at -13 below temperatures I might add) were waiting for carts. Inside the lines were backed down aisles that weren’t that crowded even on Black Friday. Later at 5 pm, my daughter tried going with hopes of fewer crowds, only to be turned away at the door, with the explanation being that the clerks needed to be able to check-out the existing customers before 8 pm closing time.
To understand the impact the closure of such a large box store that locals have been dependent on for 20 years is difficult unless you realize how few options exist in the interior. The first question when ordering on-line is “how much is the shipping?” Many private and corporate sites won’t even discuss shipping to Alaska.
The economic trickle down was evident in a conversation I had with a 30 year resident in Healy, Alaska, 250 miles south near Denali Park. He had come to town to pick up a script from the Sam’s Club pharmacy. His answer to the closure was to simply transfer the prescription to the newly opened pharmacy in Healy and not make the trip to town. The outlying villages, so dependent upon “bush mail” a term that refers to transportation of goods to supply villages with groceries, will need to look for other more expensive options for their needs.
Some are talking about coaxing Costco into a store here in the interior. As Alaskans, we will definitely find alternatives. Maybe a long road trip to Anchorage for some; for others, it could include lots of on-line shopping. But definitely some thinking out of the box about suppliers is in order, which doesn’t seem to be out of the norm for Alaskans.