In Western Alaska, the options for socializing are limited. Most communities have a basketball court, some have a bingo hall, but there isn’t usually a place to just hang out, unless you’re in Koyuk. There’s one shop in the small village where people can rent movies, indulge in junk food, and simply pass the time, but ownership of the Koyuk haven is about to change hands.
A tiny blue and white trailer glows under a single strand of twinkle lights. The trailer houses the shop known as Corinne’s. Inside, the latest top-40 tracks fill the air.
At first glance, it looks a bit like a library, but the floor-to-ceiling shelves are actually stocked with DVDs.
“On Thursdays, when we get new movies, you’ll see three or four guys come running to come get the movies,” explained the shop’s owner, Corinne Trish. “It’s kind of fun.”
Trish rents DVDs to the community of Koyuk. And the movies that are less popular? She sells those.
“And in my store, if [you] spend twenty dollars worth on movies, [you] get a free movie,” Trish explained.
Trish moved to Koyuk twenty-five years ago to work as a teacher. She had no idea what a tiny village in western Alaska would have in the way of entertainment, so she filled her suitcases to the brim with movies.
In all, she shipped up about seventy-five VHS tapes. It wasn’t long before word got out about the collection.
“There was a gentleman in our village,” Trish explained, “He knew I had a lot of videos, and he said, ‘Why don’t you start renting them?’ So, I thought, ‘Okay, I can start renting them,’” Trish said.
But there was just one problem: you’re not allowed to run a business out of school district housing. She ended up renting space in the local pool hall. She said the room was tiny.
“Then someone was selling this trailer, so I started my business in that, just with videos and pop and candy and pretzels and nachos,” Trish explained.
There was a lot of demand in Koyuk for a place like Corinne’s.
“We’ve had teen centers, but it hasn’t been consistent. They’re based on grants,” Trish said, “so when they’d lose the grant, they’d lose the teen center.”
The school’s basketball gym offers teens a place to go after class. When its doors shut, many trudge up the hill to Corinne’s for a late night snack. Despite the foot traffic, Trish said she never got into business to make money.
“In fact, I still don’t make money,” Trish admitted. “There were years that I had to use my paycheck as a teacher to pay for payroll.”
Trish has employed dozens of local kids over the years. In a community like Koyuk, where jobs are scarce, opportunities to learn basic skills like how to count change and fill out a timesheet don’t come around that often.
Today, Crystal Dewey is on Trish’s payroll. She says working at Corinne’s for the past decade has helped her find a routine.
“I like interacting with people and seeing everybody everyday,” Dewey said. “It gives me something to do.”
Dewey was just a toddler when Trish moved to Koyuk. The two have grown close over the years. So close, in fact, that when Trish retires from Koyuk Malimiut School next year, she plans to hand the keys over to Dewey.
“I’m hoping that Crystal can keep this going when I leave,” Trish said. “Then she’ll have a business, she has a definite income, and she can still employ people as well.”
But Dewey is hesitant.
“I am worried about completely owning it, as far as taxes and everything else,” Dewey admitted, “but I think I could handle keeping it running and sustaining it, at least.”
Dewey has Optic Nerve Hypoplasia. The congenital eye disease means it hard for her to make out details like eye color and dollar bill amount. Trish said Dewey was really nervous about missing one detail in particular.
“Scratches on DVDs, because she can’t see them,” Trish explained. “That was always her fear, but she’s always done really well with money, with food, and all that stuff.”
“Now she does just about everything,” Trish said.
And with that, Trish walks out the front door. It’s just minutes before Corinne’s is set to open for the evening, and she knows Dewey will be there behind the counter. The deed isn’t set to transfer to Dewey until next year, but it’s clear that shop is already in good hands.