By Melinda Munson

Lee McKinney’s first week as the new manager at AC Fairway Market, formerly IGA Fairway Market, has been hectic. He and his sizable transition team from Alaska Commercial Company (ACC) installed an ATM, outfitted the staff with company tee shirts and badges and restocked shelves with the store’s brand, Everyday Essentials.

The new owners faced a major obstacle when a major supplier, located in Washington, was shut down due to COVID-19.

“We find alternatives,” McKinney said, noting that two plane loads of cargo had already arrived on Aug. 4, with another expected soon.

McKinney relocated from Sand Point, an island of about 900 residents, whose population can balloon to 3,000 during fishing season. McKinney’s wife, Kista, is Sand Point’s front-end manager. Once a replacement is found, she will join her husband in Skagway where she’ll take over front-end operations.

ACC retained all Skagway store employees who wished to remain, and made their positions full time. The grocer hired two additional full-time workers and there are plans to add a few part-time positions. With a larger workforce, the store will be open expanded hours, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

Due to the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, masks are required at AC Fairway, and they should cover the customer’s nose.

“You have to wear it properly to be in the store,” McKinney said.

ACC, with 32 locations across rural Alaska, will remodel the Skagway store, perhaps in February, with improved check out stands, more freezer space and a customer service area with options such as cash checking and Western Union.

McKinney says the new and improved aspects of the store won’t take away from the establishment’s history. Started in 1958 by Ervon Fairbanks and run by the Fairbanks family for 63 years, the IGA helped make burger feeds and senior meals possible by sourcing ingredients and offering discounts. 

(See earlier SN story)

“They had a lot of backbone,” McKinney said. He hopes to hang photographs of the store’s founding family in the building.

Keeping Fairway in the store’s new name is a reflection of ACC’s appreciation for what came before their chain’s acquisition.

“We didn’t want people to see it as someone taking something away, but building on what’s already here,” McKinney said.

McKinney said his focus will be on fresh meat, and particularly produce.

“Fresh produce makes a big difference to us,” he said. He hasn’t decided if that produce will be barged or flown to town.

The new manager said he doesn’t anticipate prices going up because of the ownership change, but prices will rise because of the pandemic.

“Unfortunately in this market, with COVID, prices are going up everywhere,” he said.

On Aug. 1, Jackie Schaefer posted a thank you note to Ron and Tim Fairbanks on Skagway Bulletin Board that received 177 likes and 30 comments.

“It’s a huge responsibility to feed a town and I admire the Fairbanks family for shouldering that burden for more than half a century,” wrote Jeff Brady.

“The Fairbanks Family have fed us, donated and served Skagway for many years — so appreciated! Enjoy the next adventures, Tim and Rod, thank you is not enough,” added Kareen Hoover.

Rod will continue at the store’s meat department while Tim, former manager, relocated to Maine where he will fish and enjoy mixed beverages.