SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

I Grocery Shop Therefore I Am
By Dave Kiffer


March 28, 2007

Ketchikan, Alaska - You can date a local by how they refer to Ketchikan grocery stores.

For example, I tend to immediately think the name "Wingren's" when I think of local grocery stores.
jpg Dave Kiffer

My mother, on the other hand, still occasionally refers to something Downtown as "near the Piggly-Wiggly."

If my great-grandfather were still around, I'm sure he'd patiently explain that some place was "a couple of doors down from 'Clark and Martin.' " So it goes.

I have a friend who calls the store next to the mall "SeaMart." Another friend calls it "Carrs." Only a real cheechako would call it its current name "Safeway."

It's probably no surprise, then, that I tend to mark life changes by grocery stores.

Growing up in the West End of Ketchikan, I have fond memories of the two West End stores, :"Wingren's" and "Log Cabin," as they were called in the 1960s. They were both located on the bottom floors of the two 10 story, concrete bunker apartment buildings that towered over our daily lives (they were the "Wingren" and the "Austin" buildings then).

That was shortly before both stores moved across the street onto the "Great Fill" of Ketchikan (obviously the US Army Corps of Engineers was not counting barnacles in those days!) that doubled the size of the West End commercial district and made Ketchikan safe for escalators and the most profitable McDonalds this side of the San Fernando Valley.

Moving Wingren's and Log Cabin to the waterside of Tongass Avenue brought Ketchikan its first true supermarkets. We were amazed at the size, the endless aisles, the uncountable choices (five - count 'em five - different varieties of canned peaches!) and the empty spaces where the 'on sale' items should have been. See, some things don't change at all.

Of course, those of us who had traveled far and wide had seen "supermarkets" elsewhere.

I often visited a Fred Meyer MarkeTime when I was at my cousin's house in Seattle. I also experienced a "Lucky's" store near my brother's home in Sacramento.

But seeing a "real" supermarket in Ketchikan was something exciting. For a few brief moments (until you noticed the Alaskan prices on everything) you could almost imagine that you were somewhere else!

It should also be noted that there were also other perfectly fine grocery stores in the community like Tatsuda's and Ferry's but the new West End supermarkets were definitely the big kids on the block.

Over the next thirty years or so, I moved around a bit. I can't remember all the different addresses that I had, but oddly enough I can remember all the grocery stores that were nearby.

When I went to school in California, it was "Ralph's," known in those days as the first of the purveyors of "plain wrap" products. You could actually buy a can with a white label and the words "Canned Corn" on it. I
especially loved the white boxes simply marked "Macaroni and Cheese" that were five for a dollar and made it possible for me to stretch my food budget to great lengths. It was also fun to buy a case of "Beer" beer there.

When I was going to school - again - and working later in Boston the store of choice was Star Market.. I remember "Top Ramen" going for 8 to a dollar!

Toward the end of my Boston sojourn I moved out to the beach community of Revere. In addition to having the highest per capita population of "retired" mobsters (that is a column for another time ) in Massachusetts, Revere was also home to a full sized "ethnic" supermarket "Cerretani's."

"Cerretani's had a remarkable array of Italian sausages, baked goods, pastas and absolutely no vandalism in its parking lot (see the digression about mobsters above!).

Interestingly enough, both Star Market and Cerretani's have been since bought out by Shaw's Supermarket's which itself was bought by Albertsons which was then bought out by Supervalu. It's obviously survival of the fattest in the supermarket industry.

When I worked in Wyoming, I shopped at a place with the unfortunate name of "Buttreys." It was a fine store, had good fresh beef, and made for a nice hang out during a tornado once (another column, another time!).

There was an "Albertson's" nearby but I only went in it twice. The "Albertson's" was selling something called "tiger" salmon which piqued my interest. This was about the time that Alaskan marketers were selling something I had never heard of called "snow" crab, so I figured it was some clever marketing campaign some "new" type of salmon.

It was actually about a 15 pound "cannery dog" salmon with some of the deepest stripes I had ever seen, laid out on a bed of ice. It was going to $11 a pound, despite the fact that its insides were already in a state of advanced decomposition.

The next day, I went back and the salmon was gone.

"Did you throw it out?" I asked the man behind the counter.

"Oh no," he replied "Someone bought it. I can get you another, if you want!"

"Uh, no thanks."

And you wonder why so many folks out there turn up their noses at fresh fish! Someone paid over a $100 bucks for that fish mush. Maybe they were mulching their garden.

My time in Ireland a few years later (still going to school, it's a life long process, like kindergarten) was also marked by a market. In this case, "McGinley's Supermarket."

It's fair to say that in small town Ireland, a "supermarket" is not quite the same as in America.

For example, it only had three aisles. And only two different options for canned peaches. It had nothing resembling either "Top Ramen" or packaged "macaroni and cheese." It did have some tasty cookies with the decidedly un-tasty name of "digestives."

It also had the freshest meat possible. There was a small corral in back where the soon to be processed meat frequently stood chewing its last meal. I've often thought that salmon would sell better if you kept it in a live
tank like they do with lobster. You'd just have to ring it up and hand the purchaser a gaff hook. But I digress!

Meanwhile, whatever happened to the original Ketchikan "supermarkets"?

Well, Wingren's-SeaMart-Carrs-Safeway is still there. Still next to the mall. Still overwhelming the "decisionally impaired" with its endless array of canned peaches.

Log Cabin-Marketplace-MarkIt Foods is not.

It was located just to the north of Wingren's on the Fill. It never quite caught on like "Wingren's" and eventually devolved into one of those "warehouse" grocery stores where everything seemed to come in cases and you marked the price yourself - and bagged your own stuff. Eventually it was torn down and the site is now occupied by Key Bank and its parking lot, more or less.

It was probably just a little ahead of its time. People actually pay yearly memberships elsewhere for the pleasure of shopping in bulk.

As for me, I prefer individual portions of my canned peaches. I just wish I could figure out the difference between "packed in water" and "packed in juice." I guess I'll just have to wait until one or the other is on sale.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2007

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