Forecasting Alaska: Experimenting with edibles and biking, Alaskans continue to spend during pandemic

Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 3:52 PM AKST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2021 at 3:57 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Last year was a tough year for many Alaskans. Between record job losses, closed businesses and advice to stay home because of COVID-19, the state’s economy took a hit it has yet to recover from.

According to the State Department of Labor, consumer spending was down more than 13% in 2020. But not all industries suffered equally. A few even soared.

If national surveys are to be believed, 2020 was the year that drove many Americans to drink more alcohol, especially at home. But in Alaska, the numbers show a different trend. According to figures from the Alaska Department of Revenue, sales of almost all types of alcohol were down during the first three quarters of 2020. Craft beer took the biggest hit at 13%. That’s not a surprise to Lee Ellis, president of the Brewers Guild of Alaska.

“It feels like everybody’s drinking more but it’s not quite the actual truth,” said Ellis.

Ellis is a co-owner of Midnight Sun Brewery which he estimates was closed due to emergency health mandates for almost a third of 2020. But Ellis said the biggest blow to the industry as a whole, was the loss of a huge customer base. COVID-19 not only closed bars, restaurants and breweries, but it also kept summer tourists away.

“It probably isn’t that Alaskans are drinking less, but it probably has more to do with, we didn’t have two million people come to the state this year and drink alcohol,” he said.

While the liquor industry struggled, another was going strong. The state collected millions of dollars in taxes from marijuana businesses, which, deemed essential, never closed.

“Sales in 2020 were up, which is incredible. So it’s been our best year yet,” said April Luce.

Luce is a baker at MoMo’s bakery, a wholesaler that makes marijuana edibles and sells them to retailers all over the state. Luce said they noticed sales increased when the first stimulus checks came out. Given the year, she said, many of their customers just wanted to relax.

“Maybe they were spending more time at home and they feel more comfortable exploring marijuana. And edibles, in particular, are a really fun thing to start with,” she said.

But not everyone was hanging out at home in 2020. Instead of the gym, scores of people hit the trails to enjoy the great outdoors.

“It’s incredible, it’s more people than I’ve ever seen before,” said Nicholas Carman, manager of The Bicycle Shop in midtown.

Carman said his own store has had trouble keeping things like fat-tire bikes in stock, but almost any type of recreational equipment has been flying off the shelves.

“We are hearing the same thing from ski stores, from other motorized outdoor equipment. That stuff has just been incredible this year.”

Retailers say they’re seeing more “everyday Alaskans” purchasing camping gear and other items to get outside. It’s a healthy trend that started in 2020 they say has every indication of continuing into 2021.

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