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Sterling Three Bears to open this week following delays

Sterling Three Bears
Riley Board
/
KDLL
The new Three Bears location in Sterling is slated to open in Friday, August 5.

The new Sterling location of the Alaska grocery chain Three Bears is slated to open later this week.

Construction delays pushed the original opening back more than a year. But the Wasilla-based company says it hopes everything will be good to go Friday at the new location — which will include a grocery store, gas station, liquor store, convenience store and Ace Hardware store.

Sterling previously had no large-scale chain grocery store. The closest stores were all in Soldotna, as many as 20 minutes away.

The new Sterling store — near the post office on the Sterling Highway — will be a traditional grocery store-style location, as opposed to the warehouse-style of the Kenai store, which mostly sells bulk items. Three Bears Marketing Director Jim Kolb said the company scales its locations to the communities they serve.

“We’re not building an oversize store that can’t be supported. We like to keep it basically to the size of the community and favor what the community wants in that store,” he said.

Three Bears has nine stores in Alaska, including one in Ninilchik and one in Kenai.

Unlike the Kenai location, the shop in Sterling will not have a pharmacy. But it will have a gas station and attached convenience store with slightly longer hours than the grocery section.

Kolb said the store will sell sporting goods and the attached Ace Hardware will sell ammunition. But he said there will not be a formal Three Bears Outpost, like the one in Kenai, where there are guns for sale.

The store opening has been delayed by the accessibility of building materials — items like shelving and compressors for the refrigerator, Kolb said. Although the company had mostly recently hoped to open the store by the end of July, he said issues this week with utilities have pushed it back to Friday.

Kolb said those construction delays and material shortages have had more than a week’s impact. When the project initially began, Three Bears had hoped to open the new store by summer of 2021, roughly a year ago.

He said hiring for the new location was also a challenge, particularly for upper-level management positions. But they’ve been able to put together a starting staff for the opening.

“At all of our stores, we’re at a hiring limitation. And this one is no exception,” Kolb said.

Three Bears is also in the process of building another Kenai Peninsula location — although that project was put on the back burner in 2021. Still, Kolb said a Cooper Landing location is still in the works.

“It’s still in the plans, we’re definitely looking to build one there,” he said.

Three Bears purchased 13 acres off of the Sterling Highway near Quartz Creek in 2020 for that store. Kolb said the location is now slated to be open by the end of 2023, but that the same delays that plagued the Sterling location may push that back further, too.

The Cooper Landing store will resemble what Kolb calls an oversize convenience store, and will be similar in scale to the Ninilchik location. The Cooper Landing store will also include gas pumps and an RV park with cabins.

The grand opening for the new Three Bears in Sterling is tentatively scheduled for later this month.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL. A recent graduate of Middlebury College, where she studied linguistics, English literature and German, Board was editor-in-chief of The Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper, and completed work as a Kellogg Fellow, doing independent linguistics research. She has interned at the Burlington Free Press, covering the early days of the pandemic’s effects on Vermont communities, and at Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife, where she wrote about culture and folklife in Washington, D.C. and beyond. Board hails from Sarasota, Florida.
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