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Alaska-based company to build North Pole grocery/retail complex

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City of North Pole
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Three Bears Alaska will begin construction this spring on a grocery store and other outlets on a 25-site off Buzby Road, just west of the Richardson Highway.

Three Bears Alaska to begin work in spring on site near city's southern boundary; ‘It’s the full Monty!,’ mayor says

Wasilla-based grocery chain Three Bears Alaska will begin work this spring on a new retail complex in North Pole. City officials hope it will spur additional development on the south side of town.

North Pole officials began reaching out to grocery chains more than two years ago about building a store near the Brookside Park subdivision, a 200-acre residential development off the Richardson Highway, about eight miles north of Eielson Air Force Base. Mayor Mike Welch says they initially reached out to Fred Meyer, but it didn’t pan out.

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Denali Chamber of Commerce
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Three Bears Alaska has built 10 stores in Alaska, including this one in Healy that opened in 2017.

“I sure tried,” he said. “I tried with Kroger's -- y’know, Freddy’s, and I couldn’t get to first base.”

Welch says a few weeks later, he decided that instead of trying to attract a mega-corporation like Kroger, he might have better luck closer to home. So, he talked with the top executives of Three Bears Alaska, a much smaller company that opened its first store in Tok back in 1980 and in recent years has opened several additional retail outlets. It now has stores in 10 towns and cities around the state, and one in Montana.

“We got together and we made a pitch two years ago and, they liked that pitch,” he said in an interview Thursday.

After a few more months of back-and-forth, Three Bears executives and owners agreed to build a 55-thousand-square-foot combination grocery-convenience store, along with a 20-thousand-square foot Ace Hardware, a lumber yard, a sporting-goods store, a Shell gas station -- even an electric-vehicle fast-recharging station.

“We’re talking about the Full Monty here!” he said.

Three Bears Marketing Director Jim Kolb says the company is still working on a final plan for the 25-acre site, located about a half-mile from Brookside Park on the west side of the highway.

“We are planning on clearing land in the spring and have it open by the fall of ’23,” he said in an interview Thursday.

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Three Bears Alaska
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In 1980, Three Bears Alaska built its first store in Tok. The store was remodeled and enlarged last year as part of the company's expansion around the state.

Kolb says the company is also developing new stores in Eagle River, Cooper Landing, Ketchikan and possibly west of Fairbanks.

“The Ester thing -- that’s in negotiations right now,” he said.

Kolb says the company’s ambitious expansion was made possible through a recapitalization deal it reached last spring with a Seattle-based private-equity firm.

“And this allows us the financial backing to open more stores quicker, and be able to spread out faster,” he said.

City officials expect the North Pole Three Bears to attract people who work and serve at Eielson Air Force Base, as it expands to accommodate the F-35 buildup. Welch says the Three Bears businesses will also provide jobs, including 75 at the grocery store alone.

“And those are good jobs,” he said. “They pay very well.”

The new businesses will also mean more sales tax revenue for North Pole, which funds 85 percent of the city’s budget.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.