small business

Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Davis

When the world turned to home improvement projects at the start of the pandemic, Andrew Davis saw an opportunity. 

Davis co-owns Seward Milling and Lumber, just outside Seward city limits. But the company didn’t start out as a commercial mill. He and a partner first bought into the business to deal with the trees in their own yards.

When the pandemic hit, they started milling other people’s wood, too. And a year and a half later, they’re still really busy. 

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Another Kenai Peninsula city is putting thousands toward a shop local incentive program.

Seward is following Kenai and Soldotna with “Shop Seward,” which will run this upcoming holiday weekend.

Charlissa Magen

It was the middle of the pandemic and parents were exhausted. Chera Wackler was home with her 8-year-old twins. 

“A lot of us parents were like, ‘I’m out of ideas,’" she said. "We’ve made the goop, we’ve made soap, we’ve tie dyed t-shirts. You know, I’m running out.”

Mitten mania

Feb 2, 2021
Claudette Barber

An unexpected outcome of President Joe Biden’s inauguration last month was the rise of a new meme.

You’ve definitely seen it: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sitting cross-legged in a folding chair, looking slightly disgruntled but also incredibly warm in a puffy coat and woolen mittens.

Sanders got his pair from Jen Ellis, a school teacher in his home state. The internet went crazy over them.

“Well, I thought it was really funny. I won’t lie, for being a businesswoman, I thought it was a great business opportunity," said Claudette Barber, of Claudette’s Traveling Boutique in Soldotna.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Mama Cupcake is a fluffy white Angora rabbit who lives in Cooper Landing. 

On Tuesday afternoon, she was snuggled up with three of her newborns in a big blue bucket.

“I left most of her babies at home, because we’re in the process of weening,” said Rachel Sullivan. She’s the owner of these bunnies and of Hibernation Textiles, a Cooper Landing-based small business.

It was a turbulent year for business owners on the Kenai Peninsula, trying to survive the ecnomic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. What strategies and programs were helpful? What not so much? Brittany Brown, Shanon Davis and Tim Dillon, the executive directors of the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce and Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, take a look back and peer into their crystal ball for the year to come.

Courtesy of Sara Erickson

Fish skin is hardly a hot commodity. Processors like Kenai’s Pacific Star Seafoods usually grind up and discard the stuff once they’ve separated it from the meaty goodness that goes to market.

But these days, Pacfic Star is selling more than 3,600 pounds of cod and halibut skin to Sara Erickson, owner of the dog treat business AlaSkins. Erickson orders another 2,550 pounds of skin from Icicle Seafoods in Seward and 300 pounds each from 10th and M and Cooper River Seafoods in Anchorage.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

Two days in, a program to incentivize shopping at Soldotna businesses is already very popular.

“I’m drowning in vouchers right now," said Shanon Davis, executive director for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber and city of Soldotna are sponsoring the program, called “Holding Our Own,” which rewards shoppers who spend $200 or more in Soldotna with two $50 vouchers to redeem at participating Soldotna businesses — currently, a list of 36 vendors.

Following a spring and summer of uncertainty, the last thing any business owner wants is to have to close up shop again due to a coronavirus exposure.

Willow King chose to make the best of it when she shuttered her catering business Where It’s At temporarily in October. The Soldotna-based chef also works at The Flats restaurant, which saw an employee test positive as a crush of COVID-19 cases started sweeping the Kenai Peninsula last month.

Courtesy of Jennifer Strecker

Jennifer Strecker’s house must smell exceptionally delicious. The Kenai resident is baking about six pans of cinnamon rolls a day. On top of that, she’s cranking out 100 pretzels daily.

It’s all for her new business, This is How We Roll, a one-woman bake shop Strecker has been running out of her house for the last six weeks. She does her baking made to order and delivers to Kenai and Soldotna.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

In case the thrill of voting isn’t enough of an electric jolt to the system, you can head over to Dry Bones in Kenai after casting your ballot to get caffeinated on a discount drink of your choice. 

The coffee shop is taking 10 percent off drink orders for anyone who comes in with an “I Voted” sticker through Election Day, says owner Steve Raney.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

 The Reindeer Hut is ending its second season tomorrow. For a food truck, that means winterizing the vehicle and parking it in storage until next spring.

The business’s first two seasons were very different from one another. Co-owners Aaron Conradt and Benjamin Peterson were more mobile last year and fed hungry event goers gyros and baked goodies from their orange-trimmed vehicle at events around town.

This year, the truck has been in mainly one spot since April, next to The Brew Coffee — another second-year business — on Kalifornsky Beach Road. Peterson thinks that might be the reason their business grew so much this year, even during the pandemic. 

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

A year and a half ago, Rhonda McCormick localized a nationwide effort to support shopping and eating at locally owned businesses. The Soldotna Cash Mob was born.

Once a month, she invited any interested participants to eat at a designated restaurant at a designated time, then, as a group, go shop at a selected store. But since March, the “mob” mentality needed to change.

“Well, when COVID came and we went into lockdown, that kind of changed things a little bit and someone asked me if we were going to do a takeout version,” McCormick said. “And I was like, ‘Well, that’s a great idea.' So I set that up and then I thought, 'Well, we might as well do shopping that way, too.'”

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s CARES Act grant program closed for applications last Friday, with hundreds of businesses and nonprofits seeking aid.

The borough received 632 completed applications, with 40 being nonprofits. Borough community and fiscal projects manager Brenda Ahlberg says there were another 176 applications started but not finished—maybe because the applicant realized they didn’t qualify, or maybe they just forgot to hit the submit button.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Seward is keeping its emergency coronavirus restrictions in place for now after another jump in cases.

At its meeting Monday night, the Seward City Council debated increasing capacity for restaurants, city-owned campgrounds, and the size of gatherings from 10 to 20 people. Mayor Christy Terry and council member Sue McClure told the council they originally drafted it up to continue the emergency declaration, as the original was set to expire, and had put together the percentage guidelines based on the low case numbers over the last few weeks.


 Friday is the deadline for nonprofits and businesses to apply for CARES Act grant funding through the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The borough has made $15 million available in the first round of funding for nonprofits and businesses outside city limits for pandemic-related relief, whether or not they have previously received relief. The catch is that only expenses that haven’t been covered by other relief are eligible, and the borough will require proof of how the funds were spent.

City of Soldotna

This week, Soldotna will be celebrating its community and businesses with a scaled-back version of its regular annual festival, Progress Days.

Instead of the usual fanfare, parade, live music, and barbecue, the more modest event will coincide with the Wednesday market. The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event, scaled back its plans in response to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and the City of Soldotna’s regulations about large events, particularly in Soldotna Creek Park.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

When the pandemic began shutting down schools and businesses in March, the best advice to avoid getting sick and getting others sick was to stay home as much as possible. As the weeks and months dragged on, though, it became clear that just staying home wasn’t really going to be possible. So businesses began reopening, and when they did, some of the employees were masked.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a cloth face covering whenever going out, primarily to avoid giving the virus to someone else if you are asymptomatic. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services highly recommends wearing a mask in public settings when it’s hard to socially distance, like in grocery stores or other indoor retail facilities. Because of the shortness of supply, both agencies are recommending people make cloth face coverings or use cloth to cover their noses and mouths, as opposed to using medical PPE, which medical workers need.


The Kenai Peninsula Borough and the cities are getting their plans in place for distributing CARES Act funding to help with the impact of the coronavirus, with the goal of getting it out before the summer’s over.

When the federal government passed the CARES Act for coronavirus economic relief, the state of Alaska received all of it. The state would then pass it along to municipalities. Kenai was the first city on the peninsula to get a plan on the books and is getting its first round of checks in the mail this week. Larry Persily, a consultant working with the city on its CARES Act grant program, said 186 individuals applied for the initial phase, for a total of just over $2 million. The city council set aside $3 million for its grant program to businesses and nonprofits, so there’s a little left over in case the council wants to do more with it in the future.

Starting your own business involves taking big risks but has the potential for big rewards. The trick is finding the balance — between research and taking the leap, spending money to make money, giving it your all and keeping some time for yourself to keep your sanity.

As part of Kenai-Soldotna Business Startup Week, the Kenai and Soldotna chamber of commerce held a business owners forum Nov. 20 for established entrepreneurs to share the lessons they learned to make the path a little easier for someone just starting out.

If you’ve got a business idea you’ve been kicking around, this is the week to see if it could fly. Kenai/Soldotna Startup Week continues through Friday, with a variety of informational events aiming to help tackle the many hurdles facing entrepreneurs. 

This is the second year for the statewide event being held on the central Kenai Peninsula and the offerings have nearly doubled. Devon Gonzalez is helping organize the local startup week. She knows from experience how daunting it can be to start a new business, as she and her husband, Brian, opened Kenai Kombucha in April.

Econ 919: 'Job Fair' for entrepreneurs

Sep 13, 2019

On Wednesday, representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be in Kenai with Rural Strong Alaska, something akin to a job fair for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.

And, emergency repair funds will start flowing to the Peninsula as the result of floods last October and the earthquake last November.

ECON 919 - Libraries Mean Business

Mar 15, 2019


This week: small business assistance through...your local library. Let’s say you run a small business and it’s time to really spiff it up: logos, website, all the stuff a brand needs. But, that’s not your thing. And farming it out isn’t in the books. That’s where a new program through many of Alaska’s public libraries, including three on the Peninsula, come in.