ANCHORAGE - With five vendors in sight, hot dog lovers standing at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and G Street in downtown Anchorage have a smorgasbord of choices. Despite the stiff competition, vendors say there's usually enough customers for everyone and they typically have a good rapport with each other.
A hot dog vendor's location in part determines how much business each one attracts, said Martin Guarderas, who works at his father's hot dog stand, Reindeer Sausages Alaska Hot Dogs.
"We have one (hot dog vendor) to the left and one to the right," he said. "But with the tourist season being so busy, there can be lines at all of them. There's definitely enough for everybody."
The location of Guarderas' cart, like three other nearby hot dog carts, was determined by a municipal lottery for 12 vending locations in downtown Anchorage. While vendors in good standing have an increased chance of winning a spot the following year to sell hot dogs, hats or anything else they choose, there is no guarantee that they will be located where they want or even get a spot at all.
Vendors who aren't among the lottery winners or don't want to bother with chance have the option of striking a deal with downtown businesses to rent space outside their storefronts. Michael Andrews, owner of M.A.'s Gourmet Dogs, rents space from the Old Federal Building for his cart located outside its front steps and for his coffee shop inside the building.
The corner location between Fourth Avenue and E Street keeps Cory's Alaska Reindeer Sausages busy, so much so that on a sunny day in early July the cart had run out of onions by about 3 p.m., said Caroline Couwenberg, who periodically works at the cart.
Iris Ferriz, who works on the same block as Couwenberg at Reindeer Sausages Alaska, donated some diced onions to her neighbor, but it was only a temporary solution. The supply was gone in less than an hour.
Andrews of M.A.'s Gourmet Dogs said that in general the densely packed hot dog vendors get along and help each other out, though a little controversy arises from time to time.
More hot dog vendors have heated up their grills in downtown Anchorage since Andrews began operating 13 years ago. The increased competition, however, hasn't bothered Andrews because his sales have continued to rise about 10 percent a year, he said.
When Donna Graham met her husband, Jack, for lunch at M.A. Gourmet Dogs in mid-June, the line of about 30 people stretched past another hot dog vendor on the same block, she said.
"This is our hot dog place," Graham said. "He's got the best hot dogs and he's got charm, charisma, something. And he's got the music."
Andrews said he appreciates that his regulars are willing to wait in the long line that often forms at his cart. As a way to thank them for not choosing a shorter line nearby, Andrews regularly picks a familiar face out of the crowd to have lunch on him.
Once or twice a week, Mike Robuck walks past four other hot dog vendors from his store, the Alaska Mint, to have a hot dog from Andrews. Robuck, who has frequented Andrews' cart since it opened 13 years ago, said that around late March he's sniffing for the scent of sausages roasting on Andrews' grill. "It's a sign of spring," he said.
Tourists make up the majority of customers at Reindeer Sausages Alaska Hot Dogs, Reindeer Sausages Alaska and Cory's Alaska Reindeer Sausages, compared to the about even mix of tourists and locals who frequent Tia's Gourmet Sausages.
Tia Buitrago opened her cart for business 10 years ago after eating a polish hot dog with onions and tomatoes in downtown Anchorage. "It was a gorgeous day and I thought I would love to do this," she said.
All of the days, however, haven't been as picturesque as the one that inspired Buitrago.
"Sometimes I feel like we are crazy (when) it's cold and snowy," said Buitrago, who has pictures of herself working in May while it was snowing.
Along with Buitrago's location at Fourth Avenue and G Street that she won through the municipal lottery, she rents space on Fifth Avenue and in the Ship Creek area for carts that two of her adult children run.
Buitrago makes about a 40 percent profit on an average daily revenue of $600 at her Fourth Avenue cart, though her other carts bring in just enough money to cover operating costs and her children's salaries, she said.
"This is extra money to help the kids through school and send them to college," said Buitrago, whose husband's business has primarily supported the family of six.
Andrews, on the other hand, runs his hot dog stand as his main profession and plans to keep it that way.
"I am the only one who does it well enough to do it for a living," he said. "I don't see why I would stop. I love it. It allows me the freedom to do what I want physically and financially."