Area retailers consider options of late hours

Posted: Thursday, November 14, 2002

Anyone looking to stop after midnight at the Kenai Williams Express convenience store in the past few weeks may have been disappointed. Instead of getting late-night snacks, they were met with signs pasted on the fuel pumps saying that the store had gone to its "winter hours."

The Williams store on the corner of the Kenai Spur Highway and Bridge Access Road, as well as the Williams store on the Sterling Highway, will only be open 19 hours a day from November until early spring.

Carrs-Safeway district manager Joe Gulley said his company has considered reducing hours at all its stores, but, for now, will remain on a 24-hour schedule.

"About twice a year we visit that process," Gulley said. "You look at the amount of business you do between midnight and 6 a.m., and you look at the business sector to see if there might be a shift in the market."

He said maintaining store security, preventing theft and keeping up with the competition also are considerations that go into determining how many hours a store will remain open. Another factor is how much business is coming into the store.

"What we'll do is pull sales results by hours over a projected time period," Gulley said. "There's definitely a cost of doing business. There are a lot of safety concerns when you're stocking shelves, and there are customers walking around."

Jeff Cook, Williams Express vice president of external affairs, said 17 of the 29 stores statewide will reduce their hours.

"It's really a business decision," he said. "We looked at the volume of (store) activities versus the hours."

Cook said trimming hours was not a result of the June announcement that the Tulsa, Okla.-based parent company, Williams Cos., would be selling its Alaska holdings.

"These were things we were looking at irrespective of the sale," he said.

Cook said employees won't see their hours cut, however. In fact, he said, the reduction may help keep the store staffed.

"We have enough turnover in the stores, which is typical of any retail operation," he said. "With the turnover, especially when the economy in Alaska isn't great, it's tougher to maintain hours fully staffed."

The new hours started at the beginning of this month will continue until "certainly no later than the first of May," he said.

What do the reduced hours mean for Williams' closest competitors?

"With the Williams Express closing, we could stand to do a lot more business," said Tesoro North Stores general manager Rik Bucy.

Bucy oversees five 24-hour Tesoro 2 Go stores in the central Kenai Peninsula area. That includes two in Soldotna, two in Kenai, and one in Nikiski, among others in the state.

"In the past, we have closed the store at Willow and the Spur from midnight to 6 a.m.," he said. "But we have so much traffic going through there. We get a lot of people that come in late on the planes who stop to get gas on their way home."

Bucy said much of the traffic through his stores can be attributed to their proximity to the highways -- four are on the Kenai Spur Highway, and another is just south of the Y at Soldotna on the Sterling Highway. The store in Nikiski is less than a mile south of the Agrium plant.

"When we get shift changes in the middle of the night, that place is as busy all night as our stores are during the daytime," he said of the Nikiski store.

He said that is enough reason to keep the stores open, although Tesoro may still consider cutting the hours of one of its Kenai stores because they are so close to one another.

In the meantime, Gulley said there has been no determination to trim late-night hours at the Kenai Carrs.

"If we were to do it, it would probably be just in the winter time," Gulley said. "But, of course, you have to keep in mind the customers' desires."

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