Retail lags; Home Depot, eateries offer hope

PHOTO/Rob Stapleton/AJOC
Retail in Fairbanks may receive a boost this year with the proposed addition of major national retailer Home Depot.

The Atlanta-based home improvement giant is now working to buy property in the Interior city, a company official said.

"We are currently in negotiations with the property owner of a site in Fairbanks," said Home Depot spokesman Chuck Sifuentes.

He would not disclose the possible store location because the acquisition has not yet been finalized. "We’re hopeful to complete the negotiations very soon," he said in mid-January.

If the company successfully purchases the property, Home Depot officials would next secure the necessary permits for construction, he said.

"Our hope is if everything goes right we could begin construction in spring of this year with completion by fourth quarter," Sifuentes said.

The company operates one store in Midtown Anchorage with another store scheduled to be built this spring in East Anchorage.

The second Anchorage store could open in late 2001.

The new Anchorage retailer will weigh in at 133,000 square feet and include a 15,000-square-foot garden center. That store, once open, would employ 175 to 200 people, mostly full-time workers.

Competitor Lowe’s, a home improvement retailer, likewise plans to build a second Anchorage store. In early January the retailer completed the purchase of 21.5 acres in South Anchorage, according to company spokeswoman Suzanne McCoy. Work on the estimated 150,000-square-foot store could begin in May, and the store could open in January 2002, she said.

Lowe’s is not considering a Fairbanks store, she said.

The retail sector in Fairbanks should see some recovery in merchandising with Gottschalks reopening the former Lamonts store, said Brigitta Windisch-Cole, a state labor department economist who covers Fairbanks.

"Retail is a riddle" in Fairbanks, she continued, noting that the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, has opened stores in Kodiak and Ketchikan but not in the Interior city. However, the retailer does operate a Sam’s Club warehouse store in Fairbanks.

Wal-Mart officials did not return phone calls concerning a possible new Fairbanks store.

Windisch-Cole believes the Fairbanks market currently lags in the retail sector. "The only thing growing in retail is restaurants," she said.

Although the Royal Fork restaurant closed Dec. 27, operators are now considering reopening the eatery as perhaps a steak and buffet restaurant.

Also, a new Popeye’s Fried Chicken and Biscuits is under construction.

Popeye’s, at 1800 Airport Way, is expected to open in February, said Scott Roselius, vice president of the franchise’s Fairbanks operation. Roselius’ partner is Kevin Portorella, who runs the Subway franchise in Fairbanks and one in Valdez and owns local Winchell’s and Alaska Burger Master.

The area franchise operators are considering opening another Fairbanks Popeye’s in a year or two, Roselius said.

The new eatery is in the same building as Subway/TCBY with a connecting hallway, creating a food court, he said. Popeye’s will seat about 44 diners, while Subway seats about 30 people. Winchell’s also is nearby.

In terms of available retail space, Fairbanks currently registers some prime locations, said Pamela Throop, broker and president of Alaska Commercial Properties Inc. She cited available space in Shoppers Forum, University Center and the first floor of the Sadler’s locale.

02/03/2001 - 8:00pm