Yukon River shop holds out hope for summer tourism profits
Tourism and the injection of cash it brings to Alaska business has certainly slowed during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving many businesses feeling stuck in a rut. Still, for an artist and shop owner operating about 55 miles up the Dalton Highway and off the edge of the Yukon River, hope is in high supply.
"This time of year, usually there's a lot - and there's still some - but a lot more independent people coming," said Dorothy Towson of Mainly Birch Gift Shop. Towson moved to the area in 2004 and has been running a store of sorts ever since.
"I made some stuff at camp, and came up here to show it and see if I could sell," she said. "They said I could for commission in there, and I said, 'How about sitting in the parking lot?'"
Shortly thereafter, she started her business in the dirt parking lot outside the Yukon River Camp, selling items from pallets over tire rims. Now, she uses a small building put together with her own two hands to sell ornaments, cards, decorative boxes, jewelry, furs and more to people who stop by.
"I make stuff out of birch bark and fur, and every day, I just make more stuff," she said. "Whatever I sell, then I make a new one."
Towson, who said she's been an artist for about 30 years now, said that one of her favorite things about running the shop is meeting people from all over, even though this summer has been a quieter one.
"And everybody is on vacation, having fun," she said. "That's a nice thing, too.
"Now I get a chance to sell it," she said of her work. "I just gave it away (before), because I made so much."
Despite the shop's remote location, and the global pandemic, Towson said there are several things working in her favor.
"I have very low overhead," she laughed. "So, I tell everybody, if I have a customer a day, I'm good. And where I live, I'm off the grid, no property taxes or codes, so I can live pretty cheap."
She said she's confident business will pick up sooner rather than later, but has something else in mind, just in case.
"There's been so many different kinds of vehicles," she said, "I almost wanna start a book about what came up this road, because it's quite different. Old, old cars, people with dogs or packs, just, you name it, it's been here."