Mary Lambe knows that many Kenai Peninsula businesses cater to people who come to Alaska to fish in abundant Alaska salmon streams, hug the earth and find themselves in nature. But Lambe, owner of Kasilof Mercantile, has taken a new direction with her business to appeal to tourists' modern side.
After extensive travels around the country, Lambe added public Internet access to her business after seeing firsthand the demand for this service from travelers elsewhere.
Area tourism experts agree and said there has been an explosion in demand from tourists for Internet access when they visit the central Kenai Peninsula.
Kasilof Mercantile is a community grocery store in Kasilof.
"When you're out of state, the best way to stay in touch with home is the Internet," Lamb said.
She said she expects the two Internet-connected computer terminals in her store will be used primarily by visitors, since most local residents have access in their homes.
Shanon Hamrick, incoming executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, said she has seen a huge increase in requests from visitors to Soldotna looking for Internet access.
Hamrick used to be the coordinator at the Soldotna Visitors Center.
"Internet is a huge concern for people when they come into the visitors center," she said, adding a large portion of the increase happened in the last 1 1/2 years.
Hamrick suspects it is because people are becoming more computer savvy, and they are learning it is a great way to stay in touch.
Alise Jordan echoed Hamrick's sentiments.
Jordan, membership and visitor services manager for the Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she also has seen an increase in demand for Internet access. She attributed the increase to convenience and more people doing business while they travel.
While demand has increased, facilities still are limited.
Jordan said people usually are directed to the Kenai or Soldotna libraries for their Internet access needs. She said there are few places in the community that offer public Internet access.
There also is a kiosk in the Kenai Municipal Airport, as well as in the Soldotna Visitors Center, to name a few.
"We are absolutely swamped with people using Internet all the time, but especially in the summer," said Linda McNair, librarian at Kenai Community Library.
In summer, there can be a lengthy list of people waiting to send e-mails or print flight itineraries, she said.
Lamb, with Kasilof Mercantile, bought the business 11 years ago. In recent years, she has been flooded with visitors who come to the area to fish for salmon in the Kasilof River. She said she has been looking for ways to enhance her services for the public.
"We thought that it would be a fun enterprise to take on," she said.
Kasilof Mercantile, Mile 109 Sterling Highway, will hold an open house Friday afternoon. Free time slots on the Internet will be available during that time only.
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