Alaska companies gear up for PFD spending spree

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Companies large and small are gearing up for a retail whirlwind beginning in October when Alaska Permanent Fund dividend checks are issued.

James Krasnican, co-owner of Alaska Bush Service with his wife, Hyun Krasnican, shops at Costco every day to fill and mail orders of food and household items across the state.

Krasnican is not alone. The spending spree touched off by Alaska Permanent Fund dividend checks continues through Christmas, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

Krasnican bought the business 12 years ago, when a previous owner had operated it from her garage. Today, Alaska Bush Service fills 30 to 50 orders daily, shopping mainly at Costco and sometimes at Sam's Club in Anchorage, he said.

Customers are families, small business operators, city governments and school districts from around Alaska.

Sending orders to Alaska Bush Service is cheaper than buying a $600 plane ticket to Anchorage and buying their own goods, said Doug James, whose wife Dora James owns DJ's General Store in Russian Mission.

The Yukon River store operators order personal and business items from Alaska Bush Service.

''We have really long-established customers in Russian Mission, Dillingham, Chignik Lagoon, Toksook Bay and Scammon Bay,'' Krasnican said.

Bob Jett, manager of Express Yourself Expeditors in Anchorage, said summer is his busy season. He employs three to six people.

The shopping and mailing service started in 1988. Jett bought it five years ago.

Cost for the service ranges from 15 percent to 30 percent of the order's total, he said. Major retailers compete with the small companies to fill orders.

''Wal-Mart is the leader,'' Jett said. The retail giant takes Bush orders by telephone, fax and e-mail, said Gary Harvey, Wal-Mart's Alaska district manager. He would not provide figures for Wal-Mart's rural orders but said they are a very important part of the operation.

Bush business probably accounts for more than 25 percent of overall sales at Costco's South Anchorage store, according to Sterling Ripley, assistant store manager.

The warehouse retailer sells its products to residents in Bethel, the Kenai Peninsula, McGrath, Nome, Tok and Valdez, he said.

''It's a pretty extensive business for us,'' Ripley said.

About 15 to 20 people handle Bush orders at the Costco store, he said.

When the store is closed, they pull items, put them on pallets and ring-up orders.

''Our main clientele is small businesses, and that really applies to the Bush,'' Ripley said.

Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse routinely ships orders from its Anchorage store to Dillingham, Barrow and Kotzebue among other Alaska destinations, said Matt Van Vleet, company spokesman.

The Wilkesboro, N.C.-based hardware retailer also would not release figures on its Bush business.

Air Land Transport Inc. of Anchorage sends purchases from Costco, Sam's Club and Wal-Mart to Alaska towns via air cargo or barge, according to John Snead, Air Land Transport owner and president.

These orders make up a small portion of Air Land Transport's business, but the company sees an increase after dividends are issued, Snead said.

Air Land Transport has sent interesting orders like bulky purchases from Lowe's, Snead said.

''It's amazing what goes out,'' he said.

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