Anchorage small businesses see a strong holiday season, despite winter storm challenges

Various Giftshops in downtown Anchorage
Local gift shops in downtown Anchorage on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

For many consumers, the bulk of holiday shopping is done during Thanksgiving weekend, and Americans are on track for another year of record spending. The post-Thanksgiving “Small Business Saturday” is a marketing effort to get shoppers to direct some of that spending toward local retailers. 

Jon Bittner is the State Director of the Alaska Small Business Development Center. He said Anchorage businesses count on the holiday push to stay afloat, and they seem to have fared well despite weather-related challenges.


This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Jon Bittner: Anecdotally, we’ve heard from a lot of businesses saying that this was a really strong season, when they were able to be open. Here in the Anchorage area, the snow was a real problem in keeping customers out of stores, unfortunately. But once they were able to open up, they saw really strong holiday shopping, so that was good news.

Michael Fanelli: On that snow issue, how much do difficult road conditions that come after these big storms, how much does that really affect small businesses?

JB: It’s a huge impact. The reason being, people have to be able to get to your store in order to get your goods for small businesses, right, they don’t tend to have as strong of an online presence as the larger retailers. Additionally, if you’re coming to the holiday season, you have to make purchases within a certain window or a certain time frame in order to get them where they need to go for presents and things like that. So it can be very problematic. Every day that the businesses were shut down has a pretty big impact, you know, more so than if it was in the offseason or non-holiday season.

MF: I’m curious if you have a sense of Alaskans’ spending habits recently. I mean, I know nationally, spending has continued to increase in spite of inflation and still seems to be going up. Are Alaskans keeping pace with that, from what you can tell?

JB: From what we can see, yes, but we are starting to see some pain around the cost of living up here. We’re hearing through our small business survey and through our client interviews that consumers are starting to really feel the pinch, particularly around the holidays when spending is at its highest. So right now, it hasn’t translated to a downturn just yet. But we are sort of staying aware that that could be coming, unfortunately.

MF: I saw that one business owner posted about the post-Thanksgiving shopping days being sort of a “make or break” for some local businesses, that a lot of them had been struggling or closing recently. Is that something that you have seen? Are a lot of Anchorage brick and mortars closing?

JB: I wouldn’t go so far as to say a lot. But we are seeing a lot of businesses having difficulty. We’ve heard that particularly restaurants were pretty hard hit when the snow came around and they weren’t able to open. And just in general, even in good years or normal years, the holiday season is really the last gasp for a lot of businesses to sell their wares, and get those profits up right before the end of the year and into the slow season at the beginning of Q1 of the next year.

A person wearing a knitted beanie examines jewelery.
A customer examines jewelry at 2 Friends gift shop in midtown Anchorage. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

MF: How would you describe the importance of opting to buy from a local business over the often more convenient, less expensive alternatives that are out there? Does it really make that big of a difference for me to buy that one gift from a certain mom and pop store?

JB: Absolutely. I mean, on every level, from an economic standpoint, the dollar that you spend in a local business is recycled in your community much at a much higher level than anything you send out of state. In terms of developing your community itself, right, I mean, we are a fabric of our small businesses. When you think about your hometown, or you think about a town that you love to visit, you’re not thinking about the large retailers, right? You’re thinking about the small restaurants, the small businesses, the retail stores that are run by locals, the local artists, right? They need your support.

I think that the economies of scale are definitely at play here. It’s a smaller business, lower operating costs, lower number of employees. Every purchase counts. Now, do you have to do all of your purchases at small businesses? No. If you can, that’s great. But I mean, we’re not trying to lock everyone in here. I enjoy shopping at some of the box stores occasionally as well, when I’m looking for, you know, bulk items. But just in general, anytime you can spend money at a small business, anytime you can support a local entrepreneur, or a community fixture or an anchor institution, we absolutely encourage you to do so. It’s going to benefit you, it’s going to benefit your family, it’s going to benefit your neighbors. And it’s just good for the economy.

a portrait of a man outside

Michael Fanelli reported on economics and hosted the statewide morning news at Alaska Public Media. 

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