Parks Highway communities around Denali National Park are celebrating today’s grand opening of the area’s first full-service grocery store. The Three Bears Grocery in Healy is the Alaska-based company’s 10th store in the state.
Ask the folks who live in Healy, Cantwell, Anderson – even as far away as Nenana – about the Three Bears Grocery that opened today, and you’re likely to hear them gush about what a difference it’ll make for themselves and their community.
“The whole place is just a-twitter about this right now, frankly. It is a big development for the Denali Borough, as a whole,” said Borough Mayor Clay Walker.
He says the 41,000-square-foot store will make life better for people who live throughout the area, who until now have had to carefully plan meals over a week or two of more while compiling a list of provisions for the next 100-mile expedition to Fairbanks.
“Folks in Anderson are talking about how easy it’ll be to drive down here to Healy,” Walker said. “A flat, straight road, rather than risking life and limb through the hills to go to Fairbanks to get supplies. Basic supplies, we’re talking about.”
Of course, the towns in the area are on the road system, so it’s not as tough as life out in the village. And there are a couple of small stores around Healy that stock the basics. Still, Walker says it’s challenging to go for weeks at a time, before supplies are depleted and it’s time for another long trip to the big city.
“Y’know, we’re all so used to waiting to put it on the list, ’til we make the town trip,” he said.
That’s always a challenge this time of year, when the Parks Highway is often slick, snowy and windy. The mayor says he especially appreciates Three Bears management’s decision to open the store during what’s usually the slow season.
“Most businesses would shoot for a May 1 opening or even June 1, to capture the summer season,” he said. “While they’re pushing to be providing for our community in the heart of winter.”
Jim Kolb, the spokesman for Wasilla-based Three Bears, says “We’re looking forward to opening up in that community. And hopefully, it’ll be a big economic help there, and make it a sustainable town, year-round, to live in, not just (during) the summer influx.”
Kolb says the Healy store will employ 20 to 25 full- and part-time workers, and about twice that during the summer, when many thousands of tourists flow through the area to see Denali National Park and Preserve and other area attractions. Walker says the jobs that Three Bears will provide will really help the area’s economy.
“These 25 to 40 jobs are important for this area. It’s a big number of jobs for this area,” the mayor said.
Kolb says the Healy store is the company’s tenth in Alaska –the ninth, in Houston, opened in May. He says Three Bears founder Larry Weisz opened his first store in 1980 in Tok, and it’s still in business. His son, David Weisz, now serves as president and CEO. Walker says he feels even better about an Alaskan company investing in his and other communities around the state.
“It’s because these other stores are doing so well that they’re able to invest this much in our community,” he said.
Kolb says the company hustled to get the store built and stocked and ready for today’s grand opening.
“We’ll have a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the chamber at about 10 o’clock,” he said. “And it’s officially our grand opening weekend.”
Walker says the community, including about 170 of its junior members, is going all out to celebrate.
“Tri-Valley School is all attending that day – that gives you a feeling of how important it is for our community,” he said. “A lot of people are talking about turning out for the grand opening.”
The Healy Three Bears Grocery is located at milepost 248, just south of the town.