Three Bears Alaska is continuing its statewide expansion.
The rapidly growing Wasilla-based grocery and retail chain is looking at buying four new properties. The possible acquisitions include a supply store in Unalaska and a gas station-convenience store in Delta Junction. In North Pole, Three Bears is interested in buying two Sourdough Fuel gas-station-convenience stores.
“The Sourdough stations, the gas stations up there, those are all going to be Three Bears gas stations,” said Jim Kolb, a Three Bears spokesperson.
Kolb said the company is still working on plans for the changeover. A Sourdough Fuel official confirmed one of the purchases, but referred questions to Three Bears. Kolb said his company should be able to convert the fuel stations fairly quickly, because all the company has to do basically is change signage and swap out some new inventory.
Joan Travostino, Three Bears’ vice president for business development, said the company is also in discussions with the owners of two other properties the company is considering buying, one in Delta Junction and the other in Unalaska. But no final decisions have been made on acquiring those properties.
In Delta Junction, the property is a privately owned gas station-convenience store downtown.
Kolb said the company is considering transforming it into a gas station and small grocery store.
The next summer, he said, it would build a real grocery store on the site. But he said Three Bears wants to provide the community with at least a small store as soon as possible, because company officials have been hearing from Delta residents about the need for more locally available groceries.
“Because we know they don’t have anything up there, and they’ve been screaming,” he said in an interview Friday.
Delta lost its only grocery store in December 2021, when its roof collapsed under a heavy snow load dumped by a winter storm. Since then, store owner Ed Larson has been selling a small inventory of groceries packed into his liquor store next to the new store that’s under construction.
“Yeah, it’s going to be competition,” he said. “I mean, we’re not buying his business.”
Meanwhile Three Bears also is exploring expanding into the Aleutian Islands, with the possible purchase of the Alaska Ship Supply store in Unalaska.
“I believe in November is when we’re shooting to have that open,” Kolb said.
Three Bears has been on a buying spree over the past year and a half, since the company entered into a recapitalization deal with a Seattle-based private equity firm. Since then, Three Bears has built or acquired stores near Ketchikan, Eagle River, Cooper Landing, Ester and North Pole.
“We were growing anyway up until then,” Kolb said, “but that recapitalization has allowed us to leverage investors’ money, instead of the bank, so we have to come up with less down (payment) to get these projects going, which is very, very helpful.”
Not counting the newest acquisitions, Three Bears has 13 grocery stores, eight gas stations, nine sporting-goods stores and four pharmacies. The company opened its first store, in Tok, in 1980.
Kolb said the company is hustling to keep pace with its many building and renovation projects — including a new retail complex in North Pole.
“That North Pole store was supposed to be open this summer. It got pushed to next summer now,” he said. “I mean, we’re trying. We got three stores going up right now. We’re just taking over a few, as well. So, we’re pretty slammed right now.”
The North Pole project includes a more than 56,000-square-foot grocery supermarket, and an over 14,000-square-foot Ace Hardware store. North Pole Mayor Mike Welch said the project on the south side of North Pole promises to transform the town as much as the North Pole Plaza did back in the 1980s.
“That was a moment in the crossroads of the city, 40-something years ago,” he said, “being able to say, ‘We don’t need to go to Fairbanks anymore. We now have our own grocery, our own hardware, whatever.'”
Welch and Kolb both anticipate the new North Pole retail complex will open next year around Memorial Day.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of new stores bought by Three Bears. The company is interested in acquiring two Sourdough Fuel gas stations in the Interior, not four, and the purchases of stores in Unalaska and Delta Junction are not yet finalized.