‘It’s been very mellow’: Anchorage downtown businesses prepare for a quiet weekend without the ceremonial start

The sled dog statue in front of the Fur Rendezvous on 4th ave. in Anchorage. With the...
The sled dog statue in front of the Fur Rendezvous on 4th ave. in Anchorage. With the ceremonial start of Iditarod canceled, he'll be one of the only huskies there the weekend of the race.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 7:10 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Every year, downtown businesses in Anchorage staff more people, prepare to work long hours and make sure they have enough products to sell to the crowds of people showing up to 4th avenue for the ceremonial start to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Because of COVID-19, they’re figuring out ways to continue holding onto their livelihoods.

At the Kobuk, owner Nina Bonito Romine said they normally have waves of shivering tourists coming in for hot drinks, and walking out with keepsakes from their Alaskan adventures. This year she said she’s working with a skeleton crew in the days leading up to the race.

“Well, we were all super disappointed,” Bonito Romine said. “I mean it is a huge boom to downtown businesses, no doubt. And we get customers and visitors from all over the world. Not only from the Lower 48 but internationally. So we miss that. It’s an opportunity to meet and greet new people and share the beauty and spectacular scenery that we have in Anchorage, and we didn’t get to do that this year.”

The Kobuk is older than the Iditarod itself. It’s even got a full decade on the famous 1925 diphtheria serum run that started it all.

Even though the Ceremonial Start of the race is canceled, the Iditarod obviously is not.

RELATED: How to watch Iditarod 2021

With mushers still preparing, Bonito Romine said she has been seeing small numbers of the most adventurous tourists coming into her shop.

“Nothing like the volume that we would normally experience, but today has been a nice steady little slow but steady trickle,” she said the Thursday before the race.

People like the Herrings from Philadelphia are some of those tourists braving the cold of Alaskan winter and a pandemic just to see the race they’ve been wanted to experience for over 20 years. Craig and Nancy Herring said that’s almost as long as their son Brad has been alive.

They said they’ve been having to pick up their jaws a few times since arriving earlier in the week seeing what Alaska looks like this time of year.

The fact that they’re watching a race that started because of an illness is not lost on them.

“Now here in 2021, it’s an altered version of it because of the pandemic, so how ironic,” Craig Herring said.

The Herrings have been enjoying themselves, but have noticed that there’s not a lot of tourists around here with them right now. They know they wouldn’t have nearly as much fun if not for the businesses making their experience complete. In fact, their whole trip was organized by another local business, Salmon Berry Tours.

Since beginning their Alaskan adventure, they’ve heard about how hard it’s been for the businesses they’re spending money at.

“You can tell by the hours even. The hours are way scaled back,” Nancy said.

“A lot of closed shops on the streets,” Brad said.

“We’re doing our best to hit them all,” Craig said.

Bonito Romine is confident The Kobuk will survive because of how long it’s been there. Still, she said every group like the Herrings are helping keep them open. She hopes more will follow this summer.

“Hey, we’re happy to be alive, and we’re happy to travel and happy to see this part of the world,” Craig Herring said.

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