Anchorage retail growth slows in economic crunch

Department of Labor reports 200 retail jobs were lost in 2009

Posted: Friday, March 26, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Business experts say the growth of retail stores in Anchorage has slowed after 15 years of rapid expansion.

A Seattle-area developer involved in building Alaska shopping centers, David Irwin, told The Anchorage Daily News retail space increased the past five years at a rate of 315,000 square feet a year. But over the next five years he expects annual growth in Anchorage of less than 200,000 square feet a year.

At the same time, existing retailers are fighting to keep sales from sagging. They told the newspaper the economic slowdown has made customers more sensitive to prices.

"All the retailers are feeling the same crunch," said Troy Harding, regional operations supervisor for Fred Meyer stores in Alaska. His company has boosted its lower-priced, private-label food collection and remodeled its South Anchorage store in an effort to promote customer loyalty.

Harding is quick to point out that Anchorage - the state's largest shopping hub - still has room for retail growth, although maybe not much. "We are about as saturated as we can get," he said.

The Alaska Department of Labor reports that Anchorage lost roughly 200 retail jobs, a 1 percent decline, in 2009. That happened even though Target and other new retailers opened stores and added hundreds of jobs last year.

Among the retail sectors in Anchorage reporting the steepest job losses in the third quarter of 2009 were car dealers, auto parts dealers and stores that sell clothing, sporting goods, books and home furnishings, according to the Labor Department.

Overall, Mat-Su residents are probably shopping less in Anchorage because a number of retailers have opened or expanded stores in the Valley, according to Neal Fried, a state economist.

In the past 15 years, retailers have added about almost 4 million square feet of retail space in Anchorage. The past couple of years have been especially frenetic, with national retailers like Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Walgreens, David's Bridal and Kohl's each opening their first Alaska stores in the city.

In the same period, Sports Authority, Lowe's and Best Buy expanded into new locations. A few of the chains opened stores in Mat-Su, too.

But in Anchorage, at least, new construction is slowing. Chain stores will more likely focus on expanding into Fairbanks and other smaller Alaska cities, said Irwin, the Seattle-based developer.

While Anchorage retail growth is slowing, it hasn't stopped. Cook Inlet Region Inc. continues to develop the Tikahtnu Commons complex. A $20 million, 16-screen movie theater will be finished in June.

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