Snow and unswept roads forced many Anchorage stores to close temporarily, hurting sales during the holiday rush

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Back-to-back snowstorms and uncleaned roads have forced many Anchorage businesses to temporarily close during the peak Christmas season, creating new challenges for homeowners reeling 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 cut back hours. Several stores also had full “snow days” after the second storm earlier this week blanketed parking lots, kept commuters off roads and closed schools yet again.

“Full transparency: Snow sucks,” said Hannah Schruf, owner of Weather Boutique, a contemporary women’s clothing store downtown. “The whole week has felt like a loss.”

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The street parking lot outside the store last week was uncleaned for days, reducing foot traffic inside, Schruf said Wednesday as a third major storm loomed in the city.

“People drove by, saw that they could barely park, and kept driving,” he said.

He closed the store Tuesday but offered a deeply discounted online sale, which helped boost business, he said. The roads were too unsafe for an employee to open them that day, she said. The snow, and cold weather before that, have made the season difficult.

“My fingers are crossed for next year at this point,” he said.

The storms have dumped more than 4 feet of snow on parts of Anchorage. Officials from the municipality, which cleans most roads in Anchorage neighborhoods, and the state, which cleans major arteries, have scrambled to keep the roads clear. But a lack of resources has delayed snow removal. The shortage includes a limited supply of drivers and mechanics to repair equipment.

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The business owners reached for this article blamed what they called the unusual weather. Like Schruf, many offer online sales and other special offers to make up for lost sales before Christmas.

Kara Kirkpatrick, co-owner of the Dos Manos art gallery on Northern Lights Boulevard, said her pickup truck couldn’t make it through unrearred snow Monday in her Spenard-area neighborhood. Employees were also stuck at home. The store closed for the day.

“If we had a sled dog team, we would have opened,” he said.

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To help catch up on sales, he said Dos Manos will close an hour later next week before Christmas, at 7 p.m. every weekday.

“This has definitely slowed down our business, but it is what it is,” he said. “It annoys me, but we have no control over the weather.”

Radhika Krishna, executive director of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, said the snowfall has had a “significant” impact on businesses. Several stores were closed downtown Monday, she said.

“December is supposed to be a month where many businesses generate a significant amount of revenue for the year,” he said.

The closures are definitely affecting the bottom line, he said.

Bill Popp, president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., said “snowmageddon” dumps and clogged roads have limited holiday shopping for many people, he said.

“We need all the drivers, dump trucks and all blades to work please it’s the peak season of Christmas, and I’m really concerned about businesses especially the little mommies and daddies who are going to be really challenged if people don’t get feel comfortable. driving in their cars,” he said.

“These are two crucial weeks for businesses, so I just hope the city and state are not hesitating to spend money and are putting as many contractors to work,” he said.

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[Anchorage is buried in snow. You have questions. Here are some answers.]

Lance Wilber, who oversees the city’s public works department and street maintenance, said the city is doing just that, including hiring additional contractors and scheduling staff overtime.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure our roads are clean,” he said.

Tim Gravel, co-owner of Kaladi Brothers Coffee, said the company has reduced hours at stores in the city and consolidated staff to get through the worst days.

The weather added a new complication to the pandemic staffing shortage, which has been improving, he said. One key issue: Kaladi’s teenage staff whose parents rightfully prevented them from driving on dangerous roads, she 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 Monday to make sure workers stayed off the streets, owner Liz Eldridge said.

The store is doing more sales online and has steady store business when the roads start to clear, he said. Inflation is also helping sales, as many customers are looking for small, practical items like tea as gifts, she said. And another bonus: The supply chain issues that slowed shipments during the pandemic have been greatly alleviated.

Still, the expanding storms have had a “big impact” on sales, while a peak flu season is keeping some people at home, he said.

“We are having our own perfect storm,” he said. “But we opened in a recession in 2016, we saw earthquake damage (in 2018) and after the last two years of COVID, we have nowhere to go but up.”

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The Tiny Gallery in downtown Anchorage was also closed Monday after owner Laurette Rose realized she couldn’t get out of her driveway in the Sand Lake area because there was too much snow.

[Anchorage breaks annual precipitation record with combination of summer rain and recent snow]

The gallery, featuring local creations like pottery, is planning a “snowy apocalypse sale” this weekend to generate business, he said.

“Maybe this season is shorter and people do all their shopping in the week before Christmas,” he said. “It would have been better if this had happened in January, but it’s Alaska, it happens.”

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Janet Gregory, owner of Over the Rainbow Toys in South Anchorage near Huffman Road, has had good sales in the store and online, though foot traffic is noticeably less on the stormiest days, she said.

“We’re selling a lot of kids’ snow sleds and shovels, I can tell you,” he said.

But the store closed early for a couple of days, after only a limited number of employees made it through the snow.

“This is life in Alaska,” he said. “It’s the price of being here.”

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