Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

It takes a good idea, the right market and a lot of research, planning and preparation to get a new business off the ground.

Ready cash doesn’t hurt, either.

If you’ve got the first part, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce has the second in its Spark Soldotna competition.

It’s patterned off the “Shark Tank” TV show, where entrepreneurs submit a business pitch for a panel of sharks — experienced businesspeople — to review. Five finalists are selected to pitch their ideas to a live audience, and one will win $4,000.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Soldotna welcomed back its Progress Days event on Saturday with a bang—or lots of them, depending where along the parade route you were standing.

There were tractors. There were horses. There were dancers. There was a giant copy of the U.S. Constitution. Most importantly to many of the kids along the way, there was plenty of candy. The parade was cancelled last year due to concerns about the coronavirus, but came back this year with gusto, along with vendors and music in Soldotna Creek Park this weekend.

Lemonade Day fills streets with sweet treats

Jun 28, 2021
Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

If you looked around the central Kenai Peninsula on Saturday, you might have felt heavy pressure to buy a glass of lemonade. Dozens of entrepreneurs were trying their hands at all kinds of advertising, from sign-spinning to price undercutting, on the streets of Kenai and Soldotna.

Photo: Sabine Poux/KDLL

The western Kenai Peninsula is car territory. Even for locals, a car is pretty necessary to run most errands or to take part in most fishing, kayaking or hiking trails in the area. That’s the case for tourists, too, particularly those who fly here and want to explore the state on their own.

Unfortunately, this year, rental cars are thin on the ground. Really thin.

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.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Soldotna shoppers blew through the $100,000 set aside for the Holding Our Own shop local program. With two weeks left to go, the city’s doubling the amount of funds available.

“Going into the program, we had all talked about the fact that we had no idea how the program would go, how enthusiastic people would be so we just settled on the $100,000 hoping that that that was a good number," said Shanon Davis, executive director of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

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.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

“Well, first of all, let’s address the elephant in the room.”

That’s how Mark Hamilton started his talk about Pebble Mine at Wednesday’s joint Soldotna and Kenai Chamber Luncheon.

Hamilton is the vice president of external affairs for the Pebble Limited Partnership, the company spearheading the controversial Pebble Mine Project.

That project, now in an advanced exploration stage, would build an open-pit mine in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska, where there are rich mineral deposits. 

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.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL

Soldotna’s annual Progress Days event is going forward—sort of.

Progress Days usually involves a big parade, weekend market, and live music in Soldotna Creek Park on the fourth weekend of July to mark the founding of Soldotna and its ongoing progress. Big events are not really on the up and up right now, so the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce has released details of how it plans to mark the occasion in the time of coronavirus.

City of Soldotna

Though most social events on the Kenai Peninsula have been upended this summer, one staple is still going forward: the Wednesday Markets in Soldotna Creek Park.

The markets feature local crafts, foods, and other goods spread out in stalls all around the park. The first one is scheduled to begin this Wednesday at 11 a.m. Annette Villa, who organizes the markets, said the stalls will be a little more spread out than in the past.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

Soldotna’s Music in the Park series will sound different than expected this year but the show might still go on.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shanon Davis spoke to the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday night. The chamber secured another $25,000 grant from the Levitt AMP Foundation to fund an expanded music series this summer, bringing in bands from outside the peninsula and Alaska. But with the uncertainty of the pandemic, the chamber decided to take Levitt AMP’s offer to defer the money until next year.

“A month ago I was absolutely convinced that there wasn’t going to be a need for that but as time’s gone on, I realized this could be a real opportunity for us because it would be dangerous for us to take that grant not knowing if we can actually fly the bands that we booked here to Alaska or if we’ll even be able to gather because our number-one priority is the safety of the members of our community,” Davis said.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce is encouraging families to go on a bear hunt.

“Not real, furry, live bears, no,” said Sarah Hondel, tourism and education director at the chamber.

It’s a scavenger hunt for stuffed bears or pictures of bears, not actual, live bears. Similar bear scavenger hunts are happening in communities nationwide.

“For the idea of kids that are at home during the pandemic, they can have a chance to go out with their families from a safe distance, i.e., in their car for family car rides, to try to find on a scavenger hunt where all of these bears are hiding in their own communities,” Hondel said.

A staple central Kenai Peninsula family winter festival needs a new organizer. The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce announced that it would no longer put on the Peninsula Winter Games.

“Our capacity here at the chamber has just been maxed out. We need somebody who has the time to give it the love that it needs. Sometimes you have to pull back and say, ‘Is this really what we should be doing for our members and our community or would there be somebody better to take this on?’ It’s wasn’t an easy decision at all,” said Shanon Davis, executive director of the chamber.

This year’s games, held the third weekend in January, was the 44th event. 

Wednesday nights in Soldotna are going to continue their trend of bigger and better this summer, with an influx of $25,000 to support the Music in the Park series.

The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce got word last Friday that they secured another grant from the Levitt Foundation to bring in bands from around Alaska and beyond. This is the second year Soldotna will be one of the 20 communities to be part of the Levitt AMP Music program.

Events and programs director Andy Heuiser says Soldotna fits well with what the grant program likes to fund.

Econ 919: The people who make Soldotna thrive

Dec 13, 2019

In any thriving city you’re going to find a thriving Chamber of Commerce. They’re a community’s head booster, a cheerleader for local business, and they’re always good for a parade when the time seems right.
    On Wednesday, the Soldotna Chamber recognized the individuals and businesses in town who keep both the city and chamber thriving, with its annual community awards.
    It’s impossible to fit all the honorees into five minutes from a ceremony that took over an hour, so we gathered a few highlights. The complete is list below.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Five new business owners took to the mic to give their sales pitch for being awarded $4,000 in the Spark Soldotna competition Friday night.

The event was the culmination of Kenai-Soldotna Business Startup Week. It was patterned after the TV show, “Shark Tank,” with entrepreneurs being judged by a panel of business experts.

In the entrepreneur corner, was Candy FitzPatrick, who invented Rest Angles, a portable, adjustable and collapsible footrest for people with short legs.

“I was spending a lot of time in pain flying across the Pacific Ocean,” FitzPatrick said. “And over the course of those years, I tried a number of different products to try and alleviate the pain from dangling legs, to no avail. I used a cardboard box for a while. Eventually, though, I came up with my own solution. I invented Rest Angles out of necessity.”

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.

There’s nothing left to do now but wait. After a busy final week drumming up votes to get another Levitt AMP grant for its summer concert series, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce won’t know until Dec. 20 whether they’ll be one of the 15 recipients in 2020.

“Looks like we ended up in 14th place. We were looking at it right before, like, seconds before it closed, so we were in 14th place when it closed down,” said Andy Heuiser, events and programs director at the chamber.

Wednesday is the last day to vote for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce’s proposal to be awarded a Levitt Amp music series grant again this year.

The chamber got one of the competitive grants last year to enhance its Music in the Park series. The Levitt Foundation awards $25,000 matching grants to up to 15 U.S.-based nonprofits serving small- to mid-sized towns and cities across the country.

  On this week's Kenai Conversatoin, host Jay Barrett welcomes Shannon Davis and Andy Heuiser of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. The wide-ranging discussion covers the Concert in the Park series, fundraising and how so much gets done with such a small staff.

Grant transforms Music in the Park

May 2, 2019

The 2019 Concert in the Park season is just one month away. On June 5th, the Blackwater Railroad Company will kick off the Levitt Amp Soldotna Music Series at Soldotna Creek Park

The series of 12 Wednesday evening concerts was given a boost over the winter through a $25,000 matching grant by the Levitt Foundation of Los Angeles, bringing the total concert expenditure on acts to $65,000.

Things seem to be looking up online at the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. Executive Director Shannon Davis gave an exuberant quarterly status update to the Soldotna City Council last (Wednesday) night.

“It really just feels like things are starting to click at the chamber, and really just in our community. We were firing on all cylinders last quarter.”

One place that’s seen more of a turnaround than an uptick is the chamber’s Facebook page, as Davis explains.

Young gives annual address in Kenai

Apr 23, 2019
Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


After more than 40 years in congress, Republican Representative Don Young, the Dean of the House, has a neatly tailored act he brings back home every so often to update constituents while taking a few questions. He was in Kenai for a joint meeting of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce Tuesday.



Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

Join host Bill Howell on this month’s Drinking on the Last Frontier for a report from Frozen River Fest, a visit with Gakona Brewing Company and an apples-to-pears comparison of ciders and perries. Cheers!

Soldotna council candidates share plans at Chamber forum

Sep 26, 2018
Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


The city council races in Soldotna aren’t as competitive as the race in Kenai. Three candidates are running for three seats.



Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

A new visitor’s center in Soldotna is edging a bit closer to reality. The chamber of commerce has long sought a new location for a convention and visitor’s center.

Aiport Equipment Rentals named Soldotna biz of the year

Feb 2, 2018
Jenny Neyman/KDLL


For almost 60 years, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce has recognized local businesses during an annual awards ceremony. For the big one, the Chamber’s business of the year award, some critria need to be met.

The Soldotna City Council received its quarterly report from the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce at its meeting last Wednesday night. Executive Director Shannon Davis said traffic through the Soldotna Visitors Center was down this past season.

Soldotna Visitor Center plans scaled back

Oct 30, 2017
Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

As part of her report to the Soldotna City Council Wednesday night, Shannon Davis of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce announced scaled-back plans for the long-awaited new visitor center.