The Kenai Peninsula was full of opportunities for bargain-seeking residents this weekend. While chain stores in Walmart and Fred Meyer attracted crowds with Black Friday deals, other customers preferred to start their holiday shopping at smaller businesses.
According to Wallethub, the National Retail Federation estimates total retail sales in November and December will reach more than $616 billion, an increase of more than 4 percent from last year.
The one item that seems to be on everyone’s list: socks.
Soldotna resident Kathleen Stevenson and her daughter Coral Tunks and granddaughter Kyla Tunks opted to sleep in instead of fight the early-morning crowds at the big retailers. After a coffee grab the group stopped by Sweeney’s for long underwear and socks then visited Wilderness Way for jackets and snow gear.
“I like to go to the local stores first and see what they have,” Stevenson said. “We are just wandering around and seeing who has what. We always need socks.”
Stevenson said it was hard to beat a 40 percent discount for long underwear at Sweeney’s. While in past years she has participated in Black Friday shopping at the chain stores, she said she tries to stay away from that and shop locally as often as possible.
“It’s like combat fishing,” she said of the large crowds rushing to get the limited sale items. “People here are not too bad but some places they are not nice. Nothing is that important to buy. Christmas is not supposed to be about that.”
Wilderness Way owner Brian Richards said he saw a steady flow of traffic throughout the day with a lot of people out shopping for Christmas gifts. Richards, who took over the business in 2008, said the Soldotna outdoor gear store has been open since 1990.
“Normally our skis and snowshoes would be big sellers but the weather is not too conducive for that and is a little slower moving than usual,” he said.
Richards, like many other area businesses participated in small business Saturday, a nationwide campaign started in 2010 by American Express to help small retailers during the economic downturn.
Everyone that paid with an American Express credit card that spends $10 or more would receive $10 back in their next monthly statement, he said. Wilderness Way also offered a $20 gift certificate to customers that spent $100 or more.
Across the Sterling Highway some customers looking for home holiday decorations stopped into Donna’s Gifts in the Blazy Mall. Walking through the antique store is like walking into a Victorian-style home during Christmas time. The antique store, owned by local artist Donna Schwanke-Cooper for 30 years, is decorated with vibrant colors and packed full with a variety of Alaskan and gifts, jewelry and home accessories.
Kenai resident Brenda Zubeck and Mary Herndon, a former Soldotna resident back visiting, stopped by the store to browse and came away impressed with how the owner decorated her store for the holidays.
“It wouldn’t be Christmas without visiting Donna’s,” Herndon said. “She always has something unique and her prices are very reasonable.”
Inside the store are several rooms decorated in themes with fireplace mantles and six Christmas trees, all more than seven feet tall and decorated in different styles.
“Nobody does Christmas trees better than Donna,” Zubeck said.
Soldotna resident Veronica Delgado and her mother Mary Delgado stopped by Donna’s Gifts to pick out ornaments for their Christmas tree, which were 25 percent off. While she doesn’t normally shop on Black Friday, she said she couldn’t wait to start decorating her Christmas tree at home.
“This is my favorite place to get ornaments,” Veronica Delgado said. “Decorating a tree is so exciting it cheers me up. I decorate every room in the house.”
Schwanke-Cooper, who also owns Two Rusty Ravens near Mile 88 of the Sterling Highway, said she is so appreciative of her customers who have filled their house with her gifts over the years.
“It’s hard for a little shop to compete nowadays but I have really good customers,” she said. “My shop is kind of foo-foo and not what young people are looking for. But I love what I do and don’t ever plan to close.”
For some, the lure of half price socks at Fred Meyer was too good to ignore.
Soldotna resident Michelle Yeskie and her daughters Colleen and Shannon Yeskie started their day at 5 a.m. to buy socks and head warmers, then bounced around between Walmart and other local stores along the Kenai Spur Highway.
“Everyone in the family gets new socks for Christmas,” Yeskie said. “You gotta’ keep your feet warm in Alaska.”
Yeskie went to Beemun’s Bike and Ski Loft and bought a pair of skis for her daughter that were 10 percent off. Both girls said they look forward to skiing on Tsalteshi Trails after the arrival of snow.
Beemun’s owner Steve Beeson said the weekend after Thanksgiving is typically one of the busiest times of the year. While he said he was happy with Friday’s business, he had great sales on Black Friday last year when there was snow on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Challenger Learning Center and Kenai Central High School were the sites for craft fairs at which local artisans and businesspeople from throughout the Kenai Peninsula displayed their wares to a bargain-seeking public.
Gael Moto’s table at the Challenger Center sold items including jewelry, fur parkas, and a few specimens of mammoth ivory. Some of the items she had made herself, and others were made by other crafters in the village of Deering, where Moto lives. The pieces of mammoth ivory had been dug up by members of her family, whom she said occasionally discover it while hunting.
Moto, who described herself as a “lifelong rock hound,” made several items of jewelry from stones she had found.
“I pick up anything pretty,” she said.
Derek Stanton runs a chainsaw carving studio on Kalifornsky Beach road. He had a display of decorative wooden salmon and a log bench at his booth in Kenai Central High School. Stanton said that the Kenai Craft Fair helps his studio not because he sells a great amount of work, but because it raises awareness of his business.
“A lot of people think we’re just a tourist attraction, he said. They don’t know we do custom signs and furniture during the winter. This is a good show because it’s local — it lets people know what I do and where to find me.”
Diane Campbell participated in the post-Thanksgiving craft fair for her 15th year. She set up her booth in the KCHS gymnasium to sell products made from alpaca wool, the product of her ranch near Funny River road, where she said that her family raises “children and alpacas together.”
Campbell said that alpacas, native to the South American Andes, adapt well to the Alaska climate, and in addition, are easy to care for and transport. At her booth, she offered woven hats and scarves, as well as bundles of alpaca wool yarn for those who like to make their own.
When asked how business had been this year, Campbell responded: “There have been better years, and there have been worse ones.”