Many of us have become painfully aware of the impact of coronavirus and the pandemic that is currently gripping the world. Not only has it affected our personal lives in multiple ways, but it also seems to be impacting the food supply chain in both big cities and small towns in the United States. There is a small town in Alaska, Gistavis, that has seen this issue in great measure.
The story took place in late April when the grocer in the town set sail from the area on a small barge to go to the most remote Cosco warehouse in the world. It took him seven hours to reach Juneau, where he loaded up with more than $20,000 worth of eggs, flour, meat, canned goods, produce, and likely, plenty of toilet paper.
The man who went was a grocer that runs a small store called Ice Strait Wholesale, a store that is known fondly in the area as “Toshco.” 446 people in the town depend upon him to have the food that is necessary, which can be a challenge, considering how isolated the area is. There aren’t any roads and you can’t bring the car into the town and they didn’t even have electricity or phones until the 80s and 90s.
The mountains and icefields of Glacier Bay National Park surround the town on three sides and on the fourth side is the ocean. It is cut off from the rest of the world.
The town’s volunteer mayor, Calvin Casipit, said: “You either gotta fly here or boat here.”
Parker is connected to the town through deep family roots and he opened the grocery store a decade ago. Abraham Lincoln Parker, his great-grandfather, was the first homesteader that made the area his permanent home in 1917.
Parker and his father saw the growth of the local store so they also opened up a gas station. They purchased two ships after opening a freight company. Those ships made sure that Parker would be able to maintain the supply of food if it were otherwise disrupted.
Parker is busy now during the pandemic taking orders from the town residents of everything that they need, from food supplies to appliances. Every week, he heads to the Alaskan capital, which is a seven-hour journey, to purchase what is needed. It’s a challenge for a grocer, considering he also is dealing with very slim profit margins.
“It’s an art form, not a science,” Parker told The Hustle, as he talked about the demand that comes in every week.
“The town might have a 100-gallon swing in (its) demand for milk from one week to the next without any explanation of why. One week, nobody wants whole milk; the next week, everyone wants 2%.”
In addition, Parker can’t raise the prices to justify all of the work that he is putting into it. Purchasing a dozen eggs at his store cost $7.99. In other words, he only has $3.50 that covers all of his costs associated with getting the food to the area and storing it until it is sold.
“I can’t mark something up 5x because they know exactly how much something costs at Costco,” said Parker, explaining how Costco’s prices keep his prices honest.
“Toshua pretty much saved the town,” says Mayor Casipit. “I really don’t know what we would’ve done without him.”
“It’s like Christmas when the load gets here,” says Parker according to The Hustle. “Everyone is waiting for it. Word gets out, and they all seem to know when it’s coming.”
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