People appear to have two ways of using their Permanent Fund Dividend checks: spend it or save it. But regardless of which option they choose and whether the check is higher or lower than they hoped for this year, local stores reap just as much benefit as the average Alaskan resident in the amount of sales they will rake in over the next few weeks.
"We think people spend a little early on the dividends," said Mary Wilson, a manager at Fred Meyer. "We usually see a bump in sales maybe the week before."
That appears to be the case, especially among the folks who have chosen to receive their dividend check via direct deposit, Wilson said. And the items they buy vary from things like TVs and other electronics to toys for their kids and winter clothes for their families.
"It's kind of a gradual buildup," Wilson said, adding that the spending spree starts as early as Wednesday. "People buy extra in apparel. We especially see a lot of the outerwear, (such as) boots."
Even though Safeway may not come readily to mind when thinking of ways to spend dividend checks, the supermarket sees a spike in sales as well. District Manager Joe Gulley said even though big ticket items like iPods, computers and cameras aren't generally available at the local Safeway, people use their PFD checks fill their freezers, cupboards and fridges.
"We do see an influence when the PFD checks come through," he said. "Any business in Alaska sees it to some degree."
He, like Wilson, also sees a split in the states' population between the direct deposit folks and the ones who receive their checks in the mail.
"Direct deposit is becoming a larger segment," he said, though he didn't know by how much. "I don't know that (people) buy higher dollar items or change their habits, they just may stock up more."
Wilderness Way receives its share of business as well, said store employee Diane Penland. The increase in sales might not be as significant as Fred Meyer's or maybe even Safeway, but a store sale often intices people to buy a new set of skis.
"(Our spike is) probably not as large a spike as when you go to Fred Meyer and people are wheeling big TVs out in every other cart," she said. "We do see a jump and it can be everything from somebody totally replacing all their gear to kids (outgrowing) their old skis."
Penland, who has worked at Wilderness Way for nine years, said peoples' spending habits change year after year depending on how large the checks are. When PFD checks are at their lowest, some folks might just pay their insurance on their car, Penland said.
"With the bigger checks, people can justify doing something frivolous with a little bit of it rather than saying, 'This really was going to pay the car payment,'" she said. "I think there is a little freer spending when the checks are a little bit bigger."
PFD checks are $1,654 this year and the first direct deposit payments will be issued Oct. 3.
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
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