ANCHORAGE -- Those carts, tables and booths that mushroom in malls for the holidays may look small in size, but they have a big impact. For the malls, holiday kiosks mean more places to shop and, as a result, more shoppers. For those who run the temporary shops, the holiday income can be a big chunk of their earnings for the year.
Some businesses thrive on the flexibility of setting up shop temporarily. Others use a few months in a mall to test their market before moving into retail full time.
That's the case for Megan Weaver of Headsokz, a kiosk in the Anchorage 5th Avenue mall that sells fleece head coverings.
''It's the world's human laboratory to be here,'' said Weaver, 23, who is new to retailing. ''We're gathering data.''
A part-time mall presence works well for home-based photography business Todd Salat Shots, said Salat's wife and business partner, Shay Salat. The Salats schedule their year in blocks. January through April is spent hunting auroras for photos. Spring marks the wholesale season, selling prints to gift shops around the state. Summer is tourist season, spent at the Saturday market. Fall is time to shoot new releases for the big moneymaking months: November and December, when the couple trade morning and evening shifts seven days a week in the Dimond Center.
More than half of the couple's sales for the year come from a holiday mall site, said Shay Salat, something they've had the past five years. The business doesn't advertise much, she said, relying instead on a Web site and word of mouth.
''We call them be-backers,'' Salat said of repeat customers who know they'll find the Salats at the mall come Christmas time. Since the spot may change from year to year, Salat said, the exact location is posted on their Web site.
United Alaskan Artists is a group of Alaska artists and crafters around South-central that has set up tables in the Mall at Sears and the Northway Mall for years, said member Colleen Coulter, and shoppers have come to expect it.
''They know they'll find things by Alaskans,'' she said. So, wildlife scenes on agate and goldpans share space with diamond willow canes, fleece blankets that fold into pillows and the ornaments, mirrors and other creations Coulter makes from found objects.
Coulter sells from her home studio, at a few shops, and at the five or so shows the artists' group does, but the holiday show is prime time.
''This is the one we might actually make some money on,'' she said.
Some permanent shops are less than thrilled with the temporaries, said Sears mall program manager Will Elder.
''But by the same token, they increase traffic considerably,'' Elder said. ''And our job is to increase traffic as much as possible.''
Holiday carts can also serve as a springboard to a permanent location, once owners test the mall waters, said Anchorage 5th Avenue manager Gary Wells.
''It puts 'em right in the thick of things,'' Wells said. ''It gives 'em an idea of how they should develop a business plan, how their marketing works.''
Judy Parrish said she's been selling fresh-roasted nuts as The Nut House for nearly four years, but still hasn't settled on a location for her business. She has sold at the Saturday market in downtown Anchorage, opened a shop in Palmer for summer and winter, and had a booth at state fairs. This holiday season is her first in the downtown mall, she said, and since business is going so well, she's leaning toward going permanent.
''People comment on how it smells so good,'' Parrish said, pouring syrup onto the almonds she was roasting and glazing Wednesday afternoon. ''We'll try it for the holidays and see how it goes.''
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