Saturday, July 10, 2010

Stores and No-such-stores

Shopping in Unalaska is done primarily in Dutch Harbor. There is one smaller grocery--a Mom & Pop style owned by the Alyeska cannery--and it is on the Unalaska side of the community, but both the major stores are in Dutch.

The Alaska Ship Supply is kind of like a Fred Meyer--automotive, hardware and building supplies, groceries, and one of only two stores that sell alcohol. Grocery stores don't even sell beer--all alcohol is at the two special stores. (The other is a specialty liquor shop.)

In case this is all too strange, there is a Safeway store here! It even has a bakery and small deli inside. It is not unlike the Safeway stores in Cheney and Spokane, with the exception of the prices, as mentioned earlier. When we drive there we frequently see fishermen out in the empty lot next door drying, repairing, or re-stringing their nets, as we did when this picture was taken.

Of more interest are the stores that are missing. There is no dry cleaners--Unalaskans do not buy clothes that can't be washed! There are no drug stores or pharmacies. The clinic fills prescriptions, and over-the-counter stuff is available at the grocery stores. And there is no mortuary or funeral home! This is interesting, and I need to inquire more about it. A lady who died this morning is being buried on the island on Monday in a casket that was flown in. What they do with her between today and Monday, and who does it remains a mystery.

Some services are provided sporadically. A Veterinarian comes to town for one week every four months. A piano tuner comes to town once a year and tunes all the pianos--churches, schools, homes, etc.

Since there are no stores offering clothing other than work clothes and tourist stuff, a lot of purchases are made on the Internet. There is no place to buy shoes (other than work boots), bedding, hobby and craft supplies, etc.

On the other hand, there are stores you might not expect to find--an office and electronics store and two cell phone companies. The big commercial fishing store is really interesting--like a warehouse filled with chains, ropes (line), anchors, and tools you can't imagine. There is only one gas stations in town, and it is not a brand you've ever heard of.

Every week in the newspaper (yes there is a newspaper, and a radio station, too) is the "Alaska Bush Shopper." It is a series of ads encouraging you to buy such things as outboard motors, four wheelers (ATVs), generators, heaters, wood stoves, and major parts for repairing your snowmobile. Most of these products are shipped out of Anchorage, and a few from Fairbanks.

Folks talk about going to Costco, like we do. However here that is a luxury, maybe once-a-year event that is combined with other business. Cost of the round trip ticket to Anchorage and back? Approximately $800. That's an expensive Costco trip!

While there are excellent government services here, there is no garbage pick up, and no mail delivery. All parcels must be picked up at the post office, so all addresses are a P.O. Box. Some companies don't ship to P.O. boxes. One of the unintended positive consequences of having the "Deadliest Catch" TV program filmed here, is that when ordering, residents plead for shipment, explaining that they live in the "Deadliest Catch place." Often that creates understanding on the other end of the line, and orders are shipped!

We take so much for granted. People living in the bush, like any other frontier, know that nothing is certain.

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