Swan Lake Fire takes a toll on Homer businesses

Aug 27, 2019

A sign posted at Homer's Safeway.
Credit Renee Gross, KBBI News

The Swan Lake fire is causing major delays and closures on the Sterling Highway. And that’s having a big impact on local businesses in Homer, from a loss of tourist dollars to delays in goods.

Save-U-More did not have a good week last week. Mark Hemstreet is at the manager of the grocery store in Homer.

“Deliveries were definitely at least one day and sometimes two days behind so we ran short on some of the perishable items like bread, milk and eggs,” he said.  

He said the store began ordering more key items and is now in pretty good shape in terms of inventory. But shipments are still behind.

“This week, so far, our truck for Monday night delivery didn't arrive till this morning Tuesday,” he said. “So we're about a day behind on our stocking for our major shipment this week so far.”

Road closures and delays on the Sterling Highway are impacting companies across the peninsula. Gary Stroh is the general manager for Country Foods IGA in Kenai. It’s a grocery store that supplies food and freight all the way down to the Homer area.

“To date, we have not missed a load,” he said. “We have been late with several.”

He said the company has three drivers that go back and forth between Anchorage and Kenai every night.

“Last week, we did have one evening where the driver spent the entire night alongside the road, probably seven-or-eight-hour period before they were able to get through and that's been the worst one so far,” he said.

For now, he said the biggest impact has been on overtime. He adds that the company has been rushing freight through the warehouse to avoid delivery delays. 

Carri Thurman said the food delivery hasn’t been that bad. She’s a co-owner of Two Sisters Bakery in Homer. But she said there’s been another problem.

“We have seen in the last five days to a week probably 35 percent lower business, people coming through and it's much less tourism—much more local traffic,” she said.

Debbie Speakman is the executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce. She said the tourism season was already slow this year due to the fires. But over the past week, it’s been dead.

“The major impact we're seeing is the news reports that folks up north are seeing are big walls of fire and they're thinking that Homer is full of smoke,” she said. “So really, our lodging folks are really seeing an impact with lots of cancellations.”

She’s hearing reports of people canceling their trips to Alaska altogether.

“We're hoping that things will calm down and we can see the numbers come back up, but it is a big concern that we've got hotel rooms empty and people are still trying to keep their employees busy as they get through the end of the season,” she said.

Speakman said it’s unclear how the lodging industry will be able to recoup its losses.