Although big-city folks sometimes complain that Anchorage doesn’t have the fancy boutiques they’re accustomed to finding, it does have just about every other sort of place—from Sam’s Club to Nordstrom. The city is a car haven, so many of these stores are scattered in the various shopping malls that help give Anchorage its “charming” urban sprawl.
Downtown Anchorage’s 5th Avenue Mall includes two big stores—JCPenny and Nordstrom—along with several dozen storefronts on four levels. The city’s largest mall is Dimond Center on the south side at Dimond Boulevard and Old Seward Highway. Other malls include The Mall at Sears (Northern Lights Blvd. and Seward Hwy.) and Northway Mall (Airport Heights Dr. and Glenn Hwy.). Anchorage has all the megastores, including Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer, Costco, Sam’s Club, Lowes, Home Depot, Toys ‘R’ Us, Barnes & Noble, ad nauseam.
Gifts and Native Art
Much of downtown is given over to shops selling tourist doodads, particularly along 3rd and 4th Avenues, where you’ll find everything from $2 made-in-China trinkets to $20,000 sculptures.
One People (425 D St., 907/274-4063) has a fine selection of Native Alaskan art in a convenient downtown location. Also check out the nonprofit Alaska Native Arts Foundation (500 W. 6th Ave., 907/258-2623), which represents hundreds of artists. One of the finest places to buy Native Alaskan crafts is the out-of-the-way Alaska Native Medical Center Gift Shop (4315 Diplomacy Dr. off East Tudor Rd., 907/729-1122). Excellent grass baskets, dolls, masks, yo-yos, and more are sold on consignment. Another recommended place is the gift shop at the Alaska Native Heritage Center (Glenn Hwy. and Muldoon Rd., 907/330-8000 or 800/315-6608, Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–2 p.m.).
An unusual (and very expensive) purchase to consider is qiviut: caps, scarves, shawls, sweaters, or baby booties, hand-knitted by Native Alaskans from the wool of domestic musk oxen (the musk ox farm is outside of Palmer). Many times warmer and lighter than wool, these fine knits can be seen and salivated over at Oomingmak Co-op (604 H St., 907/272-9225 or 888/360-9665).
On the First Friday of each month Anchorage’s art scene comes alive with openings, hors d’oeuvres, and the chance to meet regional artists at a dozen or so galleries. Check the Friday Anchorage Daily News or the weekly Anchorage Press for details.
Anchorage’s premier gallery is the International Gallery of Contemporary Art (427 D St., 907/279-1116, Tues.–Sun. noon–4 p.m.), with something new each month from top regional artists.
An outstanding option is the Anchorage Market & Festival (907/272-5634) held at the parking lot on 3rd Avenue and E Street every weekend in summer. The market has works by Alaskan painters, photographers, potters, and others.
Anchorage is an excellent place to stock up on outdoor gear before heading into Alaska’s bush. The biggest place to shop—and one of the best—is REI (907/272-4565) on the corner of Northern Lights Boulevard and Spenard Road. “REI” stands for Recreation Equipment Inc. This Seattle-based cooperative, where members get an end-of-the-year dividend on their purchases, has a knowledgeable staff who offer free clinics and talks throughout the year. You can also rent canoes, kayaks, tents, backpacks, skis, snowshoes, and other outdoor equipment from REI.
Another excellent outdoor store with a technically adept staff is Alaska Mountaineering & Hiking (2633 Spenard Rd., 907/272-1811)—better known as AMH—just a block from REI. Though much smaller, AMH often has equipment unavailable elsewhere. This is where the hard-core climbers and backcountry skiers go.
Check the bulletin boards at AMH and REI for used gear and travel partners. Or cross the street to Play it Again Sports (907/278-7529), where used equipment of all sorts is available, from backpacks and tents to baseball gloves and fishing poles. They also buy used gear if you need a little cash on your way out of town.
Downtown shoppers head to the Army/Navy Store (320 W. 4th Ave., 907/279-2401) for more traditional Alaskan outdoor clothing and boots. B&J Commercial (2749 C St., 907/274-6113) has a downstairs packed with sport and commercial fishing supplies. This is where you’ll find the really heavy-duty clothing and equipment at fair prices.
Books and Music
Alaska’s largest independent bookstore is Title Wave Books (1360 W. Northern Lights Blvd., next to REI, 907/278-9283 or 888/598-9283). Offering a fine choice of new and used titles, this is a great hangout spot, with a literate crowd and an adjacent Kaladi Brothers shop to sip coffee and surf the Web. Also in Midtown is Metro Music and Books (530 E. Benson Blvd., 907/279-8622), with a big selection of CDs, any of which you can listen to before deciding to buy.
In addition to books and CDs, you’ll find an impressive magazine selection at centrally located Barnes & Noble Bookseller (200 E. Northern Lights Blvd., 907/279-7323 or 888/279-7323). plus a Starbucks.
Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Alaska.