You are currently viewing See why Alaskans will miss their beloved Sam’s Club
Pink sky in January in Interior Alaska

On Wednesday everyone in Fairbanks and probably the entire Interior who read the newspaper was in deep shock and disbelieve. It announced
Fairbanks Sam's Club will close January 26! Click To Tweet
Others got the bad news by word-of-mouth, text, phone or other ways of communication. The bad news seemed to spread like a wildfire in the Interior on a windy day. It was the subject of every coffee chat and even in the restrooms. Everyone seemed to be upset!

Sam’s Club sells bulk goods

For my non-American readers, let me first explain what kind of store I am talking about. Sam’s Club sells groceries in bulk sizes. Think three 44 oz (1.25 kg) bottles of Heinz ketchup as a package, two half gallons (3.79 l) of milk in one carton, twin packages of one gallon bottles of vinegar (you saw one of these vinegar bottles in my post on dyeing a blazer), three 36 eggs cartons as one package, 25 lb (13.44 kg) flour in one package, packages with eight cans of one and the same vegetable (e.g. tomatoes, corn, baked beans, green beans, peas, mushrooms, carots), bags with 5 lb of mandarins, onions, garlic or apples, boxes with 18 cups of Greek yogurt, 25 lb bags of good candies, 45 or 50 lb bags of dog food, and alike.

“What do you do with 50 lb of dog food?” you ask. Alaskans don’t have a dog they have dogs. Dog mushers have typically 20 or more dogs. Their dogs eat that bag in no time.

The photo below just shows a quarter of the Sam’s Club items that typically are in our pantry.

#groceries bulk food bought at Sam's
Some of the bulk food we bought at Sam’s: Huge boxes of spices (here only two of 14 other varieties are shown), ketchup, grated Parmesan cheese, Italian pasta of all kinds (here only elbows are shown), instant cappuccino, bulk boxes of vegetable cans (only corn is shown), 12 pack tomato paste for spaghetti sauce. Other food not shown is spam, yogurt, gnocchi, pickles of all kinds, olives, olive oil, coconut milk, peanuts, chicken, bread, rolls.

Besides groceries they sell furniture, yard furniture, electronics like computers, TVs, vacuum cleans, freezers. They have huge liquid soap containers and laundry degrents in half or even gallon size bottles. You can get even coffin size cooling boxes. Alaskans use them to ship their halibut from Valdez to where ever they live. These boxes are also used for shipping/transportation of salmon, caribou or moose.  The boxes also serve rural Alaskans to fly out perishable food to their village. No, in this case the boxes are not for keeping the products cool. In winter, they serve to protect them from freezing.

Why did people in the Interior love their Sam’s?

People in the Interior loved their Sam’s Club. They called the store Sam’s. They pronounced it like speaking about a good friend or family member, when they talked about the beloved store. In the Interior people feel urged to shop in bulks. It’s part of their lifestyle. As a regular reader you may remember my post about shopping for groceries in the bush; when you can only afford to go shopping once a month or less you buy things in bulks. We even have a word for it: Guerrilla shopping.

45 rolls of toilet paper, 15 rolls of kitchen paper towels, or 24 boxes of paper tissues anyone? Yes, please. Click To Tweet
#Alaskalife toilet paper, kitchen towels, and facial tissue in the pantry
45 rolls package of toilet paper, package of 15 rolls of kitchen paper towels, and package of 24 boxes of paper tissues sitting on the uppermost shelf in our pantry

Buying bulk-food as preparation for emergency

In the Interior, people are well aware of the vulnerability of their food supply. Even when people live in Fairbanks or in its vicinity, they like to have food in the pantry for at least six weeks. Long-time Fairbankans well remember that shelves in the local stores got close to empty when no air traffic brought goods in after 911.

Food transportation is vulnerable at the Last Frontier

In the Interior, everyone is well aware that transportation of groceries into Fairbanks only works by land or air. Even when the goods arrive in Anchorage or Valdez on a ship, they still have to be hauled by rail road or on the only two highways up North.

#Alaskalife sunflower seeds and peanuts
44 lb (19.96 kg) bag of sunflower seeds (middle) and huge bag of peanuts (front) we bought regularly at the club

The rail road and highways cross the Alaska Range, which is the third highest mountain range after the Himalayan and the South American Andes. A strong snow storm can easily cut Fairbanks off from both land and air traffic, and even internet communication.

Natural hazards at the Last Frontier foster bulk-shopping mentality

Alaska is also located on the ring of fires. Volcanic eruptions have often let to shutdown of air traffic. In the past, it happened several times that strong summer thunderstorm systems caused flash floods. Small creeks became wild rivers and washed sections of roads away. The 7.9 earthquake in 2002 reminded everyone that earthquakes can destroy roads. Even when people are new in the state, every small earthquake is an opportunity for the long-term residents to talk about that 7.9 quake on the Denali fault, the Homer 7.1 earthquake or even the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964.

#Alaskalife wild bird food bag
Two bags of 40 lb (18.14 kg) wild bird food. The cleaning bucket is put there to get an idea of the size of the bags. Note a third one is still in our trunk. Small birds, ducks, ravens and squirrels enjoy munching this food

Do I have to mention the frequent wildfire in summer and their hazardous smoke that both may lead to road closures?

Because of all these natural threats, most residents of Interior Alaska feel that
A well-stocked full pantry is worth its money in gold, in case of a natural hazard. Click To Tweet

What I loved about Sam’s

I loved Sam’s Club as they once in a while had high quality clothes from some medium price brands. All my Anne Klein sweaters and PJs, for instance, are from Sam’s. I also bought a lot of thermal underwear and house shoes there. Once in a while, they even had some cool fast fashion trendy pieces. The photo slideshow below shows some of the clothes I bought at Sam’s.

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#fashionover50 slides for running around the house
These are the slides I bought at Sam’s last fall to keep my feet warm when running around the house.

Photos of me: G. Kramm
Other photos: N. Mölders

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