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Paxson Lodge Closes: Slow Business, Mounting Fuel and Maintenance Costs

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File photo
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The Paxson Lodge is closed. The owner of the roadhouse at the junction of the Richardson and Denali highways says he shut the lodge down last week due to slow business and high operating costs. It’s the latest of several Richardson Highway roadhouses that have closed down in recent years.

Since the 1950s, the Paxson Lodge has offered travelers a place to stretch their legs and fill up with gas and coffee. The lodge has served as a friendly outpost on the long drive over the Richardson Highway between Delta Junction and Glennallen. But, no more.

Owner Chet Eldridge says he’s not getting anywhere near enough business to pay the $2,000 a week it costs to heat the place and keep the generator running. So he closed it to hold down costs while he talks with a realtor about selling it.

“It just got to the point where we couldn’t afford to run the place, with the price of fuel like it is,” he said.

The diesel he had trucked in from North Pole fueled furnaces and a generator that provides electricity for the lodge, located about 30 miles from the nearest power line.

Eldridge says he used to make money selling power to a few other area businesses under an arrangement set up by the previous owners, Stan and Wanda Brown. He bought the business from them in 1997.

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Credit University of Alaska-Anchorage
The two-story structure was built in the early 1950s.

Ten years later, after Eldridge and his wife had suffered some health problems, they decided it was time to get out of the business. They sold the lodge in 2007. But the buyer failed to keep up with payments, and upkeep, and Eldridge repossessed the lodge in April. Since then, he and his family have worked hard to get the lodge back in business – without its power-sales customers, who quit buying electricity because of problems with the generators that he says were not properly maintained.

“Every dime we’ve brought in, we’ve put back in, trying to get it going,” he said.

But the Paxson Lodge just doesn’t bring in much money. Like most of Alaska’s tourism-dependent businesses, the lodge has struggled to just get by. Tourism has been sluggish statewide in recent years, but especially in out-of-the way locales like Paxson. And at several other spots along the Richardson Highway where other old roadhouses have closed over the past few decades.

Eldridge thinks the business at the lodge isn’t likely to improve much, because big operators like Princess Cruises and Holland-America Line aren’t bringing in busloads of tourists anymore. He says instead they pretty much only stop at their own hotels elsewhere along the route.