Three Bears Alaska to make Southeast debut with Saxman grocery store and gas station

South Tongass Services
South Tongass Services on Tuesday morning, Nov. 29, 2022. (Raegan Miller/KRBD)

The Ketchikan area is getting a new grocery store. Three Bears Alaska, a chain with locations in Southcentral and Interior Alaska, plans to open a new location in Saxman, just south of downtown. The store is slated to open next spring.

In the meantime, Three Bears is taking over operations at a gas station and convenience store in the area.

Three Bears Alaska’s move into Ketchikan is two-pronged. First, the grocery chain is taking over management of South Tongass Service. And soon, crews will start to transform a warehouse in the Saxman Seaport into a full-service Three Bears grocery store, complete with a sporting goods outlet and, down the road, a hardware store.

Three Bears owns several stores around the state, ranging from Wasilla to Ninilchik. Some stores offer sporting goods, liquor sales and pharmacy services, in addition to gas and groceries. There are 20 locations around the state and one in Butte, Montana.

Three Bears is leasing the service center from Southeast Stevedoring, a subsidiary of Survey Point Holdings. Meanwhile, the City of Saxman will lease the warehouse to the company. The city said in a news release that it wanted residents to maintain control of the property.

“The Council wants the residents to maintain ownership of as much of the ocean front as it can and so saw fit to rent instead of sell,” a news release from the City of Saxman further explained.”

a checkstand
A checkstand displays a Three Bears Alaska logo on Thursday afternoon. (Raegan Miller/KRBD)

Three Bears did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Lori Richmond is Saxman’s city administrator. She said the financial details of the lease are private for now.

“But essentially, we’re getting a one time payment for a 99-year lease,” Richmond explained. “Then in exchange, they’re doing a certain amount of infrastructure updates. And in the lease, there’s a local hire provision, and (an) infrastructure provision.”

Richmond said a store had always been part of the plan for the city.

“The City of Saxman had been looking for options for economic development that provide jobs and service not only to Saxman, but our neighbors on this side of the island,” she said.

The lease hasn’t been signed yet, but Richmond said the company has access to the warehouse site so it can stage construction equipment for the renovations.

“But then as far as the schedule goes …for building it out, we’ve left that up to Three Bears with that concept that, you know, they’re the professionals in building and opening grocery stores,” she said.

KRBD stopped by a Ketchikan coffee shop to get a feel for how locals feel about the development.

Donna Georgie and Mary Caskey are self-described snowbirds — folks who spend summers in Alaska and head south for the winter.

Georgie said she thinks the store is great for the community.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “We need more grocery stores.”

Caskey also welcomed the news.

“I live south of town and I’m so looking forward to it,” Caskey said. “This is news to me.”

Grace McElroy took a break from taking orders at the counter to remember Tatsuda’s IGA. That store served Ketchikan for more than 100 years before a landslide forced it to close.

“(I’m) super excited for the Three Bears,” she said. “It’ll be good to have a grocery store out that way. It’s been a while since Tatsuda(‘s closed). Rest in peace.”

Calvin Traudt lives 15 miles north of town, but he passes by the South Tongass gas station every day on the bus.

“It’s going to be good for all people south of town, you know, put some people to work,” he said.

Ketchikan will be the first community in Southeast with a Three Bears Alaska location.

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