Downtown Anchorage Souvenir Shopping

Once in a Blue Moose Gift Shop

There is definitely no lack of shopping opportunities if you find yourself in downtown Anchorage, Alaska and want to take some reminders home or bring gifts to friends and family. I was there on a holiday weekend and don’t have a car so these are my personal experiences. First, I Ubered from the Air Force base housing where I was staying and had the driver drop me off at the Anchorage Log Cabin Visitor’s Center (546 W 4th Ave). This little log cabin is the original visitor’s center, which eventually outgrew it’s space. The woman inside guided me to the much larger building just behind which houses all the brochures, travel magazines, and friendly staff to help tourists and visitors.

Log Cabin Visitor’s Center

From the log cabin, there are numerous souvenir shops within walking distance. The first one I stopped at was directly across the street and called Once in a Blue Moose Gift Shop. This shop was quite large and I did find several items I would have bought if I wasn’t traveling by plane. However, as in all the shops I stopped in that day, there were items that were obviously mass produced and not made in Alaska. You will find the pricier local handmade items behind glass cabinets and on the walls. And throughout the store were the more inexpensive items for tourists on a budget.

Just down the street and on the same block is Grizzly Gifts. You can’t miss this store with the large grizzly display just outside on the corner and even more inside. This store had the same types of items as in most of the stores I stopped in — the t-shirts, smoked salmon, keychains, and the like.

Inside Grizzly’s Gift Shop

Down the street and around the corner (600 W 4th Ave), I found the Polar Bear Gifts Outlet Store featuring a number of clothing items with 50% off stickers. I purchased a stylish lightweight winter jacket for $20, an item I had been needing since I lost weight last winter. I also purchased two t-shirts for $6.99 each.

Sara’s Gift Cache, 408 W 4th Ave, is a smaller store with more local items and none of the mass produced gift items. I enjoyed looking around but just purchased two postcards while there. The owner there is glad to help and answer any questions for visitors.

Downtown also features the 5th Ave. mall, a 4 story shopping experience with department stores as well as smaller souvenir shops. I had been there two days previously and had purchased the always popular Alaska Wild Berries variety box of chocolates. On Memorial Weekend on Sunday before noon, I found many of the smaller shops and art galleries weren’t open and those may have to wait for another visit.

Mushing District

When You Shouldn’t Have a Customer Oriented Job

At the ripe age of 63, I feel that I’ve earned the right to lecture a little bit and pass on some of my “worldly wisdom.” I’ve had good and bad service over the years, as I know many of you have experienced yourselves. I’ll admit I’ve also been difficult myself more than once and kudos to those retail and service people who take it in stride and carry on. It takes grace to de-escalate someone’s bad mood rather than to create more chaos. I had a most frustrating experience at the Moore, OK CVS Pharmacy this morning and there was no reason for the incident other than the clerk’s bad mood.

It takes a certain skillset, a thick skin, and a pleasant character to be that clerk that customers remember when they leave the store with a smile on their face, even if they had a disappointing shopping experience or couldn’t get a service issue resolved. I wish everyone could be like this because I certainly appreciate it when a stranger says, “Yes, I understand you have a problem. What can I do to help?” rather than blaming others or hitting me in the face with their bad mood.

I was looking for one item and didn’t want to go to Walmart. I tried Dollar General first. They had a few things I grabbed but not that one item I came for. Next up the road was a CVS Pharmacy and right next door a Walgreen’s. I’ve been to this Walgreen’s to pick up prescriptions and you can’t walk through there without being greeted by at least two or three employees, asking how you’re doing and if they can help. Always a pleasant experience.

Then there’s CVS. Maybe they have bad management or horrible working conditions, I don’t know. But something was definitely off and it wasn’t me. I grabbed the item I needed and went to the front to check out. It appeared abandoned but I wasn’t in a hurry so I looked around a bit, searched for a bell on the counter, looked around some more. Finally, a supply stocker who was leaving saw me and shouted to someone in the back. As the clerk rounded the corner, she mentioned that she couldn’t see me. I joked that there are small people in the world and maybe they should get a bell. From that moment on, it was the transaction from hell.

I got an earful about how she was the only one working, and then one rude comment after another. I mentioned that I was used to clerks saying, “Yes, ma’am,” and agreeing with me when I made conversation not arguing with me. I had just left a very pleasant experience at the Dollar General with a personable young clerk and was in a good mood. To my benefit, I remained calm and kept my tone at a conversational level, mostly because I felt sorry for her, more than anything else. Something was going on and it wasn’t something I started.

I’m not a saint. I’ve been a very difficult customer in the past, defensive, self-righteous, and angry. Someone who works with the public should never take their personal feelings out on the customer, no matter how difficult the customer is. That’s one reason I never seriously considered a career working with the public. It’s not my forte. But this time, I gave her no reason to treat me the way she did.

After throwing the money at me without counting out the change, I calmly said to her that there will always be difficult people in the world, those with mental health challenges, those with addictions, and just angry people. As a customer service representative, she should be able to remain pleasant and not get defensive. I’m sure my little “speech” just went right over her head. I can’t imagine working in a job you hate and are not suited to, no matter how hard times are.

We have to be the best we can be no matter the chaos around us. I’m proud of myself for learning to let things roll off and almost always leaving a store with a smile on my face in my senior years. Maybe I’ve left someone else with a smile too more often than not. I hope so.

TMS — Too Much Shopping

Or all the things I’ve bought since I got my RV that I no longer use

I wish I could give some advice to new motor home owners or those getting excited about their first foray in the RV world. There were so many, many items that I thought for sure I really needed and ended up not using. These items were given away, sold or indefinitely stored. To be honest, at this point (my MH is almost five years old), I’m not even sure I can remember everything. So, just to give you an idea and maybe help you in making your own decisions, I’ve listed the ones I can remember.

There was an inexpensive plastic container from Camping World, $20,  that is used to keep your fresh water hose all coiled up nice and neatly and conveniently ready to use at a moment’s notice. The only problem was that my hose didn’t go in to it nicely like the picture. All the fighting with the hose just made my back more sore. I ended up gifting it to a young couple at Percy Quinn State Park in Mississippi who were camping with their brand new travel trailer. I now use a Home Depot bucket for my hose.

Then there was the more expensive folding bicycle and cart attachment for the dogs ($300 total). I guess I thought I would get exercise while camping and take the dogs with me at the same time. The trouble was, the bicycle was hard to handle and didn’t really fit in the outside cargo storage of the motorhome. The cart was a little easier to manage but also took up most of the storage and was difficult for me to get in and out. 

We only camped at a few places where there was smooth sidewalk or road to use these. I’m not very good at riding a bicycle (I had forgotten over the years) and so I ended up using the cart for my senior dog who had trouble walking far while we rambled along behind. In the end, I realized this set up was impractical and cumbersome. It was much easier to just walk and to take the oldest dog in a little stroller. I was able to sell the setup to a young father with two children who was happy to inherit my buying failure.

Probably the most expensive not used purchase was the electric three-wheeler. Before I left California for the full time life, I was concerned that I would be traveling in a motor home with no car and how would I get around for laundry, shopping, and the like? My brilliant idea after researching mopeds, tow cars, etc. was an electric bike. Remember, I can’t ride a bike. So I had to get a three-wheeler. Also, it wouldn’t have done me any good if I couldn’t take the dogs with me so it needed a large basket.

I did my research on brands, reviews, and my price range and found a good deal on a bike with the specs I needed. I don’t remember the name of the company now but the bikes featured at Ewheels is the model I got. You could not imagine how heavy and unwieldy these are until you are trying to load it onto a cargo carrier on the back of your motor home. It was physically impossible for me. I ended up spending money on a ramp that was long enough to give me a fighting chance. Even then, I often needed assistance to get it loaded. And for some reason, it would take me about an hour each time to ratchet all the straps. Total spent approximately $2000, with the bike, ramp, and carrier plus the straps, the tarp, the locks, and stuff.

I used the Ebike for about six months and then advertised it and all it’s paraphernalia for sale. A woman responded, liked what she saw, and offered me $500 for everything. What could I do? I let it all go.

Also right before I went full time, I decided to get some work done at Camping World. In addition to routine maintenance, I had them install a tire minder system for me ($400) and a back up camera ($170) to go with the Garmin GPS I’d previously purchased. Total bill with all the installations and stuff was over $1000.00.

Wanna know what’s funny? I quit using the tire minders because they kept giving me false readings and heart attacks. When you’re driving down the highway on a Sunday  afternoon in Georgia when nothing is open, you don’t want a red light beeping at you saying “losing pressure! Losing pressure!”  

 I bought a heavy duty air compressor at Lowe’s and it’s one of the first things I pack into the outside storage when taking a trip now. And I check my tires manually before leaving and on the road.

 I never used the back up camera either and it actually hasn’t even worked for a while now. I spent some money at Camping World a few years later to see if they could diagnose the problem while I was there for annual maintenance and they were unable to fix it. What do I use instead? The best way to see what’s behind you when backing up is a Fresnell Lens from Amazon, less than $20.

Off the top of my head, here are some things that are no longer used:

  • Level Mate Pro — $140; a bubble level does the trick just fine
  • Three different bird cages ( trying to find the right one for parrot comfort and to fit in the motor home — $250; the bird traveled with us for 6 months and then went to live with a friend.
  • Cat playpen — $60; cat never used it.
  • Outdoor 8 panel play yard for dogs — $62; gave away to a senior couple with little dogs in Myrtle Beach. It was too difficult for me to open and close and too heavy.
  • Expandable rainproof cargo bag — $46; didn’t need after I sold the Ebike.
  • NOAA weather alert radio — $35; never worked properly and I discovered a phone app that I can use. I’m rarely parked somewhere with no cell service.
  • Suction cup window mount cat perch — $25; cat was too big
  • Rand McNally deluxe motor carriers road atlas — $40; practically every single road is highlighted in yellow and it’s very difficult to use easily.
  • External dvd drive for my laptop — $35; I just never watch my old DVDs anymore
  • Collapsible laundry baskets (2) — $40; they were too big and too heavy
  • Four step pet steps — $40; too steep for my poodle mix. I got the same brand in 3 step and he’s still using them to this day. NOTE: sometimes it’s more expensive to return things through Amazon than to just keep them!

Some of the things I’m still using that were bought for the RV:

  • Instant Pot
  • Command caddies and shelves
  • Camco heavy duty leveling blocks
  • Garmin RV
  • Kobalt air compressor
  • Bissel cleanview mini vacuum

You get the idea. Too bad new RVers can’t try stuff out for a while and then return what doesn’t work for them. Or maybe I should not buy everything that everyone else has until I’m really sure it’s going to work for me?