Nome officials, artists and businesses weigh in on this year’s Iditarod

end of the 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
The 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race wrapped up on March 17 in Nome, with Jason Mackey taking the Red Lantern. (Davis Hovey/KNOM)

The 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has come and gone from the finish line at the end of Front Street in Nome, but local businesses are feeling the financial effect of what it brought to the city.

Businesses reported a feeling of strong sales and a post-COVID return to more normal business conditions, according to City Manager Glenn Steckman. He alluded to the possibility of increased sales for some outlets due to two major businesses being out of commission.

“Some of the business members, they were very pleased with their numbers,” Steckman said. “They’re still not sure whether some of those numbers were because, for instance, the Bering Sea restaurant burned down. We don’t know how much of that was an that impact, plus the Polar Café is still closed down. So, we don’t know if, because those two facilities were closed, whether that pushed more business to other businesses.”

Steckman added that the city won’t know for sure the complete impact this year’s Iditarod had on taxable sales until mid-April.

“It appears that there were a lot more people in town, especially after last year’s Iditarod.,” Steckman said. “The flights were full, so it appears that things look good.”

Maruskiya’s Gifts, which sells authentic Bering Strait Coast and St. Lawrence Island Native artwork, is located next to the Burled Arch in downtown Nome. Owner Andrew James said sales were good if a bit lighter than during recent Iditarods.

“It was down a little bit from some of our past years,” James said. “But, that’s not surprising considering there was about half the amount of mushers in the race. And going into it, we kind of figured that probably means less personnel for the race, and also just less people coming because less mushers means less people connected. A smaller race means less visitors.”

The race this year had 33 teams competing, the smallest pool of mushers in the history of the Iditarod. The first race, in 1973, had 34 participants. The average number of mushers in a given year is usually more than 50.

Even more local arts and crafts were on display at the Iditarod Craft Fair, which was held at Old St. Joseph’s Church. Cheryl Thompson is the organizer of the event. She said the fair, which has been a staple of the Iditarod for more than two decades, was well-attended.

“I think it was a really good crafts fair,” Thompson said. “We pretty much had customers all week long. You know, a couple of lulls but not much, not much at all. So, it looked like there were a lot of people in town for the Iditarod, By now most people know where the crafts fair is because we’ve had it up there for over 20 years. It was very successful.”

Milano’s, an Italian pizzeria/Japanese restaurant just off Front Street, is owned by Andrew Im. He said there was a smaller crowd this year than in past years, but it a good one, nonetheless.

“We had a lot of visitors from outside of Nome, so it was very good, very busy throughout the Iditarod,” Im said. “I understand that it used to be much bigger before the pandemic. I think about a third of the racers actually participated this year. So, it was a fairly small crowd from what I understand, but it was a decent size.”

In addition to smooth sailing in the business community, Nome Police Chief Michael Heintzelman said heavy weather, just days before mushers started to reach Nome, put a crimp on the schedules of his officers, though everything worked out well in the end.

“It caused some of my people not to be able to get into town, and we work a rotational schedule for the officers,” Heintzelman said. “They’re two weeks on and then two weeks off (and) the oncoming people weren’t allowed to get into town because the airport was closed. Others couldn’t leave town. Luckily for me, even though they went 14 days straight, on 12-hour days, they still came to work for me and worked overtime.”

Steckman added that some visitors commented about the lack of downtown sirens greeting the mushers; the siren’s functionality was impacted by a recent fire at the public works garage.

“We had a fire at the Public Works building, that’s where the siren for the downtown area is placed,” Steckman said. “That fire, of course, happened the Saturday before the first dog mushers came in and we could not get it fixed.”

The siren will need to be repaired or replaced due to fire damage, according to Steckman. Mayor John Handeland told Iditarod banquet attendees the plan is for the siren to sound off every time a musher comes to town next year.

Plans are being made to relocate public works operations to the snow dump for the summer while insulation and sheet rock are being replaced and the interior is painted.

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