Like much of coastal Alaska, Southeast relies on barging in freight, everything from groceries to toilet paper. As inflation continues, the region is feeling the pinch at the retail shops and at the pump. CoastAlaska’s Angela Denning reports:
Lloyd Rice pulls a chain hoist, getting ready to off-load freight from a container van. He’s in the warehouse of Hammer and Wikan Hardware store in downtown Petersburg. He’s never sure how much freight there will be until it arrives.
“It depends when it just shows up at the Seattle terminal,” Rice says.
These boxes of merchandise got shipped in on AML, Alaska Marine Lines, the region’s largest barge company. Rice will go through the paperwork and expects increases. Suppliers are charging more.
“Sometimes the invoices have significantly increased,” Rice said. “Sometimes I say to myself, ‘At some point, throughout this inflation going on, the product is not going to be sellable to anybody in the community’.”
The hardware store sells everything from commercial fishing gear to potting soil to kitchen ware. But it’s not just the cost of these goods going up. It’s getting it here. AML has tripled its fuel surcharge over the past year, raising it to 26 percent.
“The last year we’ve seen so many increases,” said Jim Floyd, the general manager for this hardware store as well as the company’s grocery store and convenience store.
Floyd says they bring in more food than anything else.
“We get charged by the weight.” he said. “Basically, it’s between 30 and 35 cents a pound currently, so you’re talking about a 10 pound bag of flour, that’s three dollars that’s added just for the weight and then you have to add the fuel surcharge on top of that.”
The company imports goods on the barge twice a week filling around three, 40-foot container vans.
“The problem is, that’s the third increase just in the fuel surcharge not to mention five percent increase in our rates year over year,” Floyd said. “And people notice it when they go to the check stands and the cost of everything is so much higher.”
Especially the heavy items.
“You know honestly, it’s ridiculous how much we pay for water, just because of the weight,” Floyd said. “So, when I see people buying cases of water I cringe because they’re paying just for freight; freight and fuel.”
Higher barge prices affect most retailers in Southeast.
“There’s definitely that ripple effect all across the board,” said Angie Flickinger, who runs a business in Wrangell making body care products like soaps and lotions.
She says the cost for some of her ingredients have gone up 20 percent in addition to increased shipping.
“In my business, I have to ship up large quantities of raw ingredients,” she said. “So, just trying to plan all of that and factor in the shipping cost and adjust our prices for that. I’m feeling that a lot.”
But it’s not just the freight going up. Flickinger lives 12 miles outside of Wrangell and drives into town most days to her manufacturing shop. Gas locally is about $5.50 a gallon so lately, she’s been working at home a few days a week and being more careful about planning trips.
“Really since the gas prices have risen up quite a bit, we’ve been kind of staying home on the weekends too and not driving to town on weekends if we don’t have to,” Flickinger said.
Gas all over Southeast Alaska is over $5 a gallon at the pump.
On June 13, it was $5.42 in Sitka and $5.63 in Petersburg, which is a 33 cent jump within a month. In the capitol city, prices range from $5.23 to $5.70 a gallon. The more remote communities have even higher prices. In Kake, on the northwest side of Kupreanof Island, residents are paying $7.74 a gallon.