Here in the semi-far north, we take our shopping seriously. Not because we have an array of New York-style boutiques or shops that offer a world of food items or the latest in fashion or design. No, we take it seriously because it's such a pain in patootey. And usually a bigger pain in the wallet. I'm not talking specialty items here, folks. Just plain old groceries and other everyday products.
Limited, to put it mildly. There are two (count 'em! two!) grocery stores in my town, one locally owned and the other an Alaska fixture for the last century or so (the chain, not necessarily the actual building). Between the two, I can usually find the brand of coffee creamer or whatever I prefer, depending on who got their shipment in most recently. Generally, I settle for what they have on the shelves. I may have a choice of two or three brands. Maybe. And our town is lucky compared to small villages in the state. The produce has to travel so dang far, it's a wonder the tomatoes arrive as whole fruit and not sauce. Oh, non-food items? Well, I can buy a package of underwear at the one store, but I haven't found a place to purchase shoes other than at the local Salvation Army. Rubber boots, yes, but not regular everyday shoes. And forget anything that might be considered dressy.
Oy. When you're paying almost $7 for a gallon of milk, the thought of having a cow or goat in the yard sounds real good. Except for the potential draw of a local bear. We'd probably get fined for baiting wildlife. Gas? Closer to $5 a gallon than I like to see. (Which is ironic, considering the oil from which the gas is produced is pumped out in our proverbial backyard. Luckily, we have few roads and hubby tends to walk to work. But heating fuel and electricity prices get us.) An inexpensive loaf of "wheat" bread is $1.60. If you want something with a bit of fiber in it, expect to pay $4 or more. Shampoo that is $2 in most places is $4 or so here. A canister of ground coffee is also about twice the price. What's funny is that a cup of designer coffee (ie: a latte or whatnot brewed and served at by a local barrista) is about the same price in other locations I've visited. Can someone explain that?
THERE ARE MANY OPTIONS...NOT!
How do we thwart the cost of living and increase our choices? Well, there's the Internet. This option gives you unbelievable choices, but you'll pay for shipping in the end. A friend once wanted to order a small piece of furniture but the shipping cost alone was twice the price of the item. Um, no thank you.
Though we will purchase things online, more often than not we go to the City. Anchorage, in this case. But to do so is not a spur of the moment activity. Not by a long shot. First off, you can't drive there from here. Nor can you fly to Anchorage and do a lot of shopping because of airline baggage restrictions and costs. It's doable, but not cost effective. No. To get to Anchorage for a BIG shopping trip, one must check out the Alaska Marine Highway ferry schedule
and coordinate it with other aspects of life. If you're lucky, you can get on the fast ferry, which only takes 3 hours one way to get to the road system. That schedule not so convenient or the fast ferry is full? Well, you can expect to travel for 6-12 hours one way before reaching the roads. There is limited space for vehicles, so reserve your spot early.
Our most recent trip on the fast ferry (which doesn't run in the winter) had us leaving on a Saturday morning and returning on Tuesday afternoon. In between, we visited friends in our old town before trundling up to Anchorage to shop. An easy, relaxed trip for us. In January, we were limited to the 12 hour ferry. We left home after midnight on a Friday, arrived in Whittier (the town on the road system) Saturday afternoon, drove the hour to Anchorage, shopped our brains out, over-nighted at a hotel, then returned to Whittier to catch the Sunday 1pm ferry back. Whew! It got us home at 1am Monday morning. The kids didn't go to school that day.
We typically drop $900 or so on groceries at one of the Anchorage warehouse stores, as well as a couple hundred more at a regular grocery store if we can't find certain items. These trips keep us in canned goods and such for 4 months. We buy things that don't travel well or we use quickly (bread, milk--though we buy it in Anchorage and freeze it--butter and cheese, for example) from the local outfits when we need to.
On the plus side, there is no other place I know of that while making the journey to your shopping destination you can take in gorgeous scenery and watch humpback whales breaching as you kick back and let someone else drive. In the end, I'll take THAT over access to a pair of kicky shoes any day.