Counter Culture Hits Alaska: Part One

We’re spending the week in the Anchorage area, checking out some of the many real estate projects underway here and thought it would be a good opportunity talk about the area’s retail market.

Alaska might not be the first state on you minds when it comes to retailing, but they do have some interesting things going on, especially in this city of about 280,000 people.

Not surprisingly, the area is under retailed compared to other parts of the country, called the “Lower 48” in these parts. While some US markets are experiencing store closures, Anchorage residents seem to want more store openings.

Ciri, a development corporation owned by indigenous Alaskans, is building the $100-million Tikahtnu Commons in the northeast part of the city, to open in the fall. The development, in a joint venture with Oakland, CA-based Browman Development Co., will be home to the state’s first Target, fifth Lowe’s and possibly second Best Buy.

We’re used to hearing about chains closing their stores lately, so it’s refreshing to find a place that’s not over stored where many of our larger national outfits don’t have a strong presence.

Says Margaret Brown, Ciri’s president and CEO, it’s not always easy to convince retailers to come to an out-of-the way area where products need to be shipped long distances. But Target executives have told her that their move to the area will help them fine tune their plans to expand internationally.

“This is kind of a test market for them,” Brown says.

It can be a challenge to persuade retailers to come to Alaska, she says, but Ciri is planning another, similar center on the south side of Anchorage. When asked if she is worried about opening a new center in this economic climate, Brown says there is so much demand and few stores in the area that she is confident her projects will lease up.

“Obviously we would like the economy in the national to be better, but we still feel like we’re making progress here,” she says.

Are there any other areas of the country that are still ripe for retail growth, or is this really the final frontier?

Look later this week for a second and final installment of Counter Culture’s Alaska retail observations.


4 Responses to “Counter Culture Hits Alaska: Part One”

  1. 1 E July 16, 2008 at 9:35 am

    Since Jack London’s time, Alaska always had a kind of unexplored “frontier” vibe and lends itself to the kind of hopeful, never-done-that-before, why-not-now mentality. The first real-burst, exposure, on our national consciousness I think was the pipe-line boom and everyone was “…wow, who knew?….”.

    Then, there was Exxon-Valdez. Ooops.

    Alaska is ripe for expansion in many ways. Businesses just have to be prudent and manage, not exagerate, expectations.

    We so oversatured here in the lower 48 with get-rich outfits now gone belly-up like Steve & Barry’s, the chains shuttering stores left and right, etc., it’d be interesting/refreshing to see how the “seed” plants and grows in Alaska, maybe we’ll learn something!

  2. 2 Nancy H July 16, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    I think there are still some areas in the lower 48 that haven’t been over-saturated with retail centers…although after watching the “cockroach”-like growth of Walmart across America in your previous posting I was surprised to see any space left in the states at all that weren’t filled with green blobs (the color used to designate Walmart locations on the map). I was surprised you didn’t mention they were popping up in the Anchorage market, too. I might be somewhat disillusioned…but seeing all the articles about business closures and bankruptcy notices, and then reading that Walmart is boasting about “booming” sales numbers during these horrible, depressed times is just so disheartening. Only Walmart could plaster a smiley face on their front door during an economic crisis. (Remember the serial killer they called the “Smiley-face killer” because he wrote letters to the police and signed them with a smiley face…? Hmmmm. Could this be why they switched to a flower? Disguising their true identity?) But your article is not about Walmart in Alaska…right?

    I think it is great that businesses are finding a home in Anchorage and hope that there will be more places found that are ready for a little growth. Yay for Target and those retailers that can see the potential in these outlying areas. I’m sure people appreciate having somewhat easy access to decent stores, even when they live in the booneys!

  3. 3 TeenyTiny July 17, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    They’ve had national retailers in the Simon mall on 5th for years, there’s also another mall in Anchorage with more independents, but a few nationals that do very well in sales. With all of the drilling that will be happening in Alaska over the next ten years (and it will), someone will need to do some shopping up there.

  4. 4 Allison V. July 18, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    The funny part about one of the above posts is that Wal-mart IS in Alaska. We are still itching for more retail. When you group them together in a convenient location so that you don’t have to make special trips, it is a win-win.

    It may be a generalization, but I feel it is more an observation, Wal-marts put pressure on areas that have economical issues to begin with. It seems that Alaska has enough retail money to go around so people will go to Wal-mart to save on zip-lock bags and prescription drugs AND another specialty outlet to get that special item. Wal-mart doesn’t carry everything. I know, because there are a great deal of items or brands for which I personally am very particular, and Wal-mart will never cut the mustard. They don’t carry Seventh Generation diapers do they?

    What is really suffering here are the grocery stores that are ONLY grocery. Why stop there when you can get groceries AND clothing AND camping gear AND gardening AND furniture all in one place?

    As for the 5th Avenue Mall, it is nice, but it is very inconveniently located from the areas people actually live. It works well if you work downtown and want to hit it on the way home, but if you want a weekend stop, you’ll think twice about it when you factor in the downtown parking issue coupled with the cost of driving to it. Also, if you can get it from one of the above all-in-one stores, why bother going to the mall?

    Once the overhaul of downtown is complete, some of these issues will be addressed, but it won’t solve the problem of convenience. If you can pick it up while shopping for food, you won’t waste your time driving somewhere else.

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