Sunday, February 1, 2009

If I Didn't Have to Eat or Drive I'd Be Rich

I love Alaska, and even more I love living in bush Alaska. We make a lot of sacrifices to live here and for the most part they are worth it, but sometimes you just can't help but complain.

A while back I was lamenting the empty state of my freezer and pantry. We were beginning to run out of things like may, coffee, pilot crackers, hamburger and chicken. These are things that I try to stock up on whenever I have a chance to go to Anchorage. Apparently I stocked up on too many Christmas presents and not enough food the last itme I was down there. Lucky for us we have a few friends in Anchorage who were willing to help us out. I sent a grocery list to our friend Alane and she hit Costco and Walmart to get all the items we needed. Last week she expertly packed everything into three totes and passed them off to my friend Lois who brought them to Alaska Airlines Cargo and sent them up.



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Here are the totes when they arrived. I absolutely hate, with a passion, buying groceries from the Alaska Commercial Company (AC Store) here in Kotzebue. We now only have two stores in Kotzebue, AC and Rotman's. Rotman's is 1/4 the size of AC so they hardly count as competition when it comes to shopping. Ever since the demise of Hanson's, AC has steadily raised their prices.

The prices at AC are insane, even for bush standards. It is not the fault of the people that work at the store here in Kotzebue, at least I don't think it is. If you complain to them they tell you that the prices come from higher up, maybe the regional office in Anchorage or the home office in Canada. The managers tell you it's because of freight prices, I say that's crap. I'd like to see it broken down. When I had my friends shop in Anchorage for us and send it up we paid around $360 for 192 lbs of groceries. It cost $118 to send that 192 lbs of groceries to Kotz. So those three totes cost a total of around $478. I would guess, that those same groceries, purchased here, would have cost at least $750. At least. Let me give you a few examples....


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The can of coffee on the right was purchased in ANC (Anchorage) for $8.79. The smaller can of coffee on the left costs $17.45 in OTZ (Kotzebue)

* 64 ounce jar of Best Foods AKA Helman's) mayo cost $7.49 in ANC. In OTZ it's $13.74.
* 4 lbs thick sliced Bacon is $10.99 in ANC while only 2 lbs of the same is $16.29 in OTZ.
* A big bag of individually wrapper El Monteray burritos was $13.49 in ANC but it's $31.25 in OTZ...you know, cause they're so frikkin' heavy and all.
* In ANC you can get a 4 lb pack of butter quarters for $5.79, but in OTZ 1 lb of butter will cost you $5.45.
* In ANC you can get a 6 lb bag of flash frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts for $16.99. In OTZ it will cost you $16.99 for a 2 lb bag.



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The list goes on and on. I find it interesting that Nome is on the same freight schedule as Kotzebue yet the Nome AC store prices are much cheaper than ours. It be nice to hear the explanation for that....but we won't.



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So my freezer is happier and so am I because I didn't buy it at AC.



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Yeah, and gas sucks too. This is how it looked when I filled my truck the other day.


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23 comments:

Grace said...

Sheesh!!! I'm sorry about the cost of living up there. But what a beautiful setting. That's priceless.

Peruby said...

I would cry at the gas pump. I hate it when I don't have coffee in my cupboard.

Margaret said...

What I remember about it, besides that it was pricey, is that we always bought our fresh fruit at Rotmans because they put them in 3 or 5 pound bags for a good price... for Alaska bush price that is.

AND the ice cream sold out really fast at AC - you had to get it quick or you got stuck with some strange tasting thing no one else wanted.

Anonymous said...

Just don't forget to add in the cost of a person's time buying, schlepping, packing and going to the post office, in addition to the gas used to do all that running around and then the cost of vehicle maintenance, insurance, etc. that needs to be pro-rated for those miles. Did you add in the cost of the totes and tape, too? Remember, someone paid $10 an hour is actually more like $13.50 or so due to taxes paid on the employers side. What about the cost of their benefits? On the Kotz side, the store also has mortgage/rent, heat, electric, insurance, maintenance, freezer/cooler costs, water, trash, etc . . . Of course, if you think they really are ripping you off and this is such a deal, you could always open your own . . .

Finnskimo, its more than just a name... said...

Yeah Cathy, we could just open our own. Anonymous up there seems to have not read that the Nome AC store is on the exact freight schedule as we are, and exactly the same amount of air miles away from Anchorage as we are, but our prices are much higher. You forgot to mention that Hanson's is still open in Nome, so that must be why they decide to keep the prices there lower. I shop in Anchorage...you have to. The only thing I buy at AC is dog food. For a 40 lb bag it is just two dollars more than at Wal-Mart and actually cheaper than PetSmart. :) But I better not say that, cause they'll jack up the prices for that too!

james said...

I think Hanson's was making money when it was bought out by Safeway. The prices at AC were a lot lower when they had to compete....Safeway's explanation for buying Carr's was that they were buying the expertise of marketing in Alaska. Then they started doing ridiculous things at Hanson's. For example, meat arrived already past it's sell date and was tossed in large quantities into the dumpster. When Safeway pulled out, closing what had been Hanson's, the prices at AC went right up. Somebody needs to open another store, and I don't mean another place that sells chips, smokes, and soda pop.

tundratantrum said...

Thank you for your comment and I agree. It was very sad to watch the slow, painful, lingering death of Hanson's. With it went the only viable competition that AC had. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to purchase most of our groceries in Anchorage, unfortunately that is not the case for everyone.

The price of freight, rent, and fuel does not justify the insane mark up of items. It just doesn't. If someone would like to show to me on paper how it is justified then I would be most interested in seeing it. Please, someone, show me the error of my ways. I have no problem with eating crow.

Loveanewidea said...

I just fell off my chair when I saw the gas pump photo!

PS - What is Pilot Bread?

DJ said...

I live in Nome and made my first trip up to Kotz last week (at least my first trip off the plane). I was suprised to see how much more expensive the prices were compared to Nome. The only reason I can imagine prices in Nome are cheaper is the fact we have a deepwater port. Things are much cheaper coming off the barge rather than NAC or AK Air.

tundratantrum said...

Thanks for the comment DJ. I'm glad someone came on here to verify that the prices at the Nome AC are cheaper than the prices in Kotz. Yes, Nome does indeed have a port and cheaper barge service, Kotz has to liter in goods from the big barge 14 miles offshore.

It is my understanding from someone who also lived in Nome that while Nome AC does indeed barge some good in during the summer, they still do most of their freight by air. Like Kotzebue the shipping season is only a few months long, although I think Nome gets a few more barges than we do. The storage space needed to hold enough goods for the whole winter would be enormous.

bwanashajara said...

I saw the blog through the ADN...sounds like AC is still AC! I remember the AC store in Barrow being the same way. There was 'competition', but the two small stores really didn't hold up, so A/C charged what they wanted. It was the A/C store or bush orders through WalMart/Sams/Cosco, Fred Meyers, or Span Alaska.

I went on a temporary assignment to Bethel when I lived in Barrow and the AC store there was about 15% cheaper than Barrow. The folks at the AC store told me it was because they did bush service to 54 villages, so that kept prices down. But again, they had another big competitor in town so that could be it as well.

Even with the insane prices, having an AC is a luxury! When I lived in Cold Bay, we had a tiny store or you ordered in bulk via ship (or the crazy PenAir air freight rates) It is nice to just be able to run down to the store to pick up something, even if the price is crazy!

Igluguq said...

Very true with the crazy AC prices! Whenever I travel to Nome, I load up on groceries. We do the same in Anc., pack our empty totes to Anc. and bring back as much as we could. My husband likes to price check things at A.C., a loaf of bread in Kotzebue is about $5, at Costco you get 2 loaves of bread for less than $4. Great job writing! Taikuu for writing the truth respectfully and honestly!

Millsy said...

I called my mom on Saturday, angry as heck, because I spent $192 at AC and more than half of that money was just on cat food, paper towels, cold medicine, and detergent.
Plus I spent a fortune on produce since I'm a vegetarian and would prefer to eat that rather than pasta or junk.
I really need to make a trip to ANC since no one is stocking veggie burgers or anything else right now.

Anonymous said...

When you mention that Nome is on the exact same freight schedule that Kotzebue is...ask yourself how much you make there as well. You make more in Kotzebue and you pay more....makes sense as to why an individual is paid more there.
Besides Nome has competition with more then one grocery store and the costs of groceries tend to lower. Make sense....sure does to me!

gail said...

I knew things were more expensive there but I had no idea how much. Those prices are staggering!

lisaschaos said...

How in the world do you afford to live there? ouch!

tundratantrum said...

How do I afford to live here?? Well according to Anonymous in Nome it's because I make gobs of money...lol.

Arvay said...

Every place has its upsides and downsides. If, on the whole, you love where you live, you are allowed to vent your frustrations about the parts you dislike. I don't understand these "anonymous" (though you can easily track them) posters who get all uppity when you vent. It's your blog; you can vent if you want to vent! Besides, this is legitimate reporting on the Kotzebue life, which I am interested in reading about.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Arvay!!!!!!!!

Aunt Gail

Arvay said...

Thanks, Gail!

Tracy said...

Um...ouch...I have 4 kids to feed. I'd have to do monthly shipments from anchorage or we'd starve at those prices! lol I knew it was expensive, but you're right, that's WAY more.

Anonymous said...

Three Bears in Wasilla will pick your food and send it in the mail. I have been shopping for three different man camps in smaller villages outside of Bethel. If it doesn't have to be chilled or frozen, you can't beat the price to buy at Three Bears and get it mailed, it usually costs about .50 cents a pound to mail it and the prices at Three Bears are close to Costco (it's like a mini costco).

bridgit snipes said...

I feel your pain,hey I live near Houston[yes Alaska]near Wasilla,we should start a mail order freight online store,I see your busy but this seems so wrong,this may really catch on if it was done right,keep up the great stories thanks