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Open & Shut is an ongoing series looking at the comings and goings of businesses in Southcentral Alaska. If you know of a business opening or closing in the area, send a note to reporter Alex DeMarban at [email protected] with “Open & Shut” in the subject line.
Brewerks: Chad Ringler brewed beer out of his house for close to two decades, dreaming about one day opening his own brewery to bring people together over his craft beer.
But he stayed focused on his civil engineering career at a private company in Anchorage.
Until about a year ago.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, like a lot of people, he decided it was time to reset his priorities and pursue his life’s passion.
“It’s scary in the middle of a pandemic to say, ‘I’ll leave a wonderful job and strike out on my own,’ ” he said. “It definitely kept me up at night, but you never know until you try it.”
“I think just in the middle of everything going on around the world in general, I decided it was time to do something I always wanted to do,” he said.
Brewerks opened last month at 625 W. 59th Ave., units A and B, in a newly built collection of warehouse buildings.
The lone employee for now, Ringler is open Fridays and Saturdays from 4-8 p.m. He’ll slowly expand hours as he finds his operating rhythm, maybe adding a day in January, he said.
Brewerks sports an open-concept design with exposed rafters, round tabletops on beer barrels, and two seating areas including an upper loft.
“It’s my version of a hole in the wall,” he said. “I like the laid-back feel.”
Ringler said he sometimes gives customers tours of the sleek brewing and fermenting tanks in the back.
He’s already serving a variety of beers.
The Wicked Pissah! is a New England IPA. The Blacksmith’s Breakfast is made with coffee from Goldie’s Coffee Roasters in South Anchorage. The beer is named for his brother, who shoes horses for a living.
Other beers are aging in old wooden barrels along a wall. He’ll tap those next November, on his one-year anniversary.
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Pho Lotus: During the pandemic, Brandon Sundara said he realized it was time to “step up” and seize more opportunity in life.
So he left his job as a chef at Benihana restaurant in downtown Anchorage and opened Pho Lotus — a Vietnamese, Thai and Laotian diner in Spenard — with his wife, Surangrak.
“No work, no money, honey,” he said with a laugh, explaining why he opened.
Sundara, originally from Laos, moved with siblings to Hawaii as a young teenager in 1980, a refugee from the fallout of the Vietnam War and communism, he said.
“A young man, back then, they would capture you to be a soldier,” he said. “So that’s why we had to get away.”
Cooking at the refugee camp in Thailand was a necessity for every kid, he said. He left Hawaii for Alaska many years ago and spent his career in the restaurant industry.
“I’ve been cooking all my life, what else can I do?” he said. “I cannot work in oil fields, I cannot sell cars, all I know is cooking. So the restaurant business is suitable for me.”
Pho Lotus opened in November, and dishes up Vietnamese pho, Thai curry and the minced meat dish larb, among other items.
It is in the former spacious housing of Tempura Kitchen at 3826 Spenard Road, recognizable for its log-cabin siding.
When Tempura Kitchen was open several years ago, it was bustling, he said.
“I want to bring back the spirit they used to have before,” he said.
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Divots Golf: Golfers can practice their swings all winter in this simulated golfing studio in Midtown Anchorage.
They play on digital courses projected onto screens that reenact real-life courses, said Victoria Hofmann, an owner with her husband, Lawrence.
Since the business opened in September, some customers come in to get a feel for the links they’ll be playing in warm states like Arizona or Hawaii.
They get high-tech feedback with each swing, including tips on their form, swing analysis and ball speed and distance.
Divots Golf is located at 4230 Old Seward Highway, where Aaron’s furniture store was previously located, and is part of a fast-growing, family-run chain from Washington state that started less than two years ago.
This Divots is the first in Alaska and the fourth overall, Hofmann said.
Hofmann, an Anchorage resident and daughter of one of the founders, thought a Divots in Alaska would be perfect to help Alaskans stay golf-ready through winter.
The chain has flourished during COVID-19, in part because groups of golfers can stay safely distanced within their booths, Hofmann said.
More than 100 courses from around the world can be recreated digitally, she said.
The market for simulated golfing is growing, especially as technology has improved with more realistic images and feedback, Hofmann said.
“It’s very high-fidelity,” a client said recently before he whacked a ball. “It’s just accurate.”
Doodle Quilting Studio: Enjoli Strait opened a quilting business in her garage five years ago.
But business has gone well enough that in November, she moved to a commercial space at 2153 E. 88th Ave.
Next door is Seams Like Home Quilt Shoppe, a fabrics and quilt store owned by her twin sister, Angelyn Starr.
It’s a perfect fit, Strait said.
Seams Like Home provides the products for quilting. And Strait finalizes quilts for customers, assembling the layers of fabric that are difficult to finish on small home sewing machines.
In addition to hand-guided, custom quilting, she also provides other services, including computerized quilting. The computer allows quilters to choose from a variety of designs.
A woman making a gift for her granddaughter used the digital design to add kitchen utensils onto a cooking-themed quilt. That quilt, which Strait completed, will be a Christmas gift.
Strait also teaches classes at the shop, showing customers how to complete their quilts on sewing machines. She teaches on small, domestic sewing machines, and on larger, faster machines known as longarms.
Some customers have asked her to complete quilts left unfinished by mothers or grandmothers who passed away, she said.
“It’s a handmade item someone spent time to think about and took the time to make,” she said.
Starbucks: The international chain from Seattle opened a new coffee shop in Anchorage in early December. It’s located near the corner of DeBarr and Muldoon roads.
Frigid North: Changing consumer habits, the Anchorage recession and pandemic-related challenges finally got the better of this electronics supply store in Spenard after more than 40 years.
Frigid North launched when Jimmy Carter was president. It sold cables, wires and outlets for builders, plus hard-to-find components for computers and telecommunications equipment.
The business closed its doors on Dec. 7.
Tom McGrath, a founder, sold the business in 2014.
Bryant Trujillo and two partners bought it, around the time oil prices were crashing. Trujillo said his first year was a good one.
But the slowdown in the oil and gas industry and the reduction in other commercial activity sparked a multi-year recession, hurting sales.
Then the pandemic hit in 2020, causing more problems. Municipal requirements and concern for workers’ health forced the store to close its doors except for pickups.
Customers also increasingly shopped online, and the pandemic hurt electronics production and supplies. Prices for items like copper wire surged. Shipping delays lasted months.
There’s another long-term issue, Trujillo said. People these days increasingly replace electronic items instead of repairing them. That has hurt demand for parts.
“We’ve had a lot of customers who have been pretty upset and sad to see us go,” Trujillo said. “But most people who have shopped here for years have seen that the Alaska market has drastically changed, at least in our segment.”
GCI also removed its business about five years ago, as GCI was acquired by Colorado-based Liberty Broadband, McGrath said. GCI now purchases items out of state, he said.
McGrath still owns the property that houses the facility. He ran Frigid North for decades, with his wife, Judith, playing a key role.
“I hate to see it go, but it’s time,” he said. “It was a good run. I enjoyed it. And I provided a service for Anchorage.”
McGrath is handling the sale of final items at an online auction. McGrath will also sell the buildings and one-acre lot.
Trujillo, 34, said he plans to leave Alaska and work in the Lower 48 in software development.
“I love living here, but I see the economy up here struggling for a long time,” he said.
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Curtis and Campbell: The Campbell family founded the paint and interior design store in 1966, and family members continued to play a lead role in the business after Spenard Builders Supply acquired it in 2006, according to a Daily News article that year.
Known for its quality products, Curtis and Campbell had a “suit-and-tie” style that complemented Spenard Builders’ “blue-collar” approach, the article said.
A Spenard Builders manager said in an email that it was a “tough decision” to close the Curtis and Campbell shop, located at 6239 B St.
“We wanted to minimize the impact on our customers,” so the store moved a portion of Curtis and Campbell’s services to the Spenard Builders Supply at 4412 Lois Drive, said Joel Lynch, area manager for Spenard Builders.
“Our plan is to retain as many team members as we can by transferring them to comparable jobs at other locations,” Lynch said. “This will make the remaining 20 (Spenard Builders’) locations even stronger. Spenard Builders Supply has been a successful fixture in Alaska for 68 years. We are positioned to continue that success into the future.”
Spenard Builders is owned by Builders FirstSource in Dallas.