Reality television has painted a somewhat distorted picture of life in Bush Alaska. Shows like Alaskan Bush People and Alaska: The Last Frontier depict families living life off-the-grid, chopping wood to build their cabins, and hunting and gathering to put food on the table.
But even the hardiest of those living in the Alaska Bush head to the store at least occasionally to stock their pantry and purchase clothes, furniture, and other personal items.
It just takes a bit more effort--and an airplane--to do what is an easy afternoon errand for the rest of Alaska.
"We're a service provider," says Clinton White, owner and operator of Anchorage-based Greatland Grocery & Supply, an online store that serves all of Alaska. "We market ourselves as a grocery store, but really we're a supplier of goods that Bush communities need."
Even for businesses that predominantly serve more traditional customers, Bush orders still comprise a significant portion of their sales.
"It's amazing how much stuff goes out in the Bush," says Ron Bailey, president of Bailey's Furniture, which has showrooms in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla, and Soldotna. "I'd estimate that 10 to 15 percent of our sales are Bush orders."
And what's delivered to Bush communities is as varied as the people who live and work there.
"I've hauled everything from sled dogs to CAT parts for bulldozers, caskets, even peregrine falcons several times," says Eric Sieh, pilot and owner of the Kotzebue-based Arctic Backcountry Flying Service. "Just about most things you can think of, I may have flown it."
Shopping from the Bush
Without any brick and mortar stores in the Alaska Bush, there are no quick trips to Fred Meyer for a dozen eggs or some last-minute shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, residents and businesses order groceries and personal items online through the store's website; submit an order form via email, regular mail, phone, or fax; or shop in-store during a trip to one of Alaska's hub cities.
For stores that offer online ordering, shopping isn't much different than ordering through Amazon or a grocery store app.
'It works like any other e-commerce site that folks are familiar with," White says. 'You can browse the items and add them to your cart. Pretty much anything you're going to find at any major store is processed through one easy online transaction."
Order fulfillment varies by store. Greatland Grocery doesn't have a physical location, so employees shop to fulfill orders much the same as Alaskans who don't live in the Bush.
"We use the same resources that every other customer...