Alaska Commercial Company is a retail company which provides groceries and general merchandise in stores throughout Alaska. Alaska Commercial Company's roots can be traced back to 1776 when Catherine the Great granted trading rights to the Russian-American Trading Company. The Russian Trading Company operated trading posts throughout Alaska, trading goods and services for furs, gold and other tradable goods. When the United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867, the firm was sold to San Francisco merchants Lewis Gerstle and Louis Sloss. The new company was re-named the Alaska Commercial Company. From 1868 to the Gold Rush Days of the early 1900s, Alaska Commercial Company was a provider of groceries and general merchandise for trappers, explorers and gold seekers.
These village stores, operating under the red Alaska Commercial Company flag, became the center of all community activities. The Company served as the Post Office, community hall, courtroom, marriage parlor, funeral home and a safe haven for travelers. It also served as the bank, extending credit to customers working as trappers, miners and fishermen. Very little cash was used to purchase merchandise. The customers traded with pelts, gold, artifacts, fish, or whatever might have value to other customers.
In the early 1900s, the people who had come to Alaska for the gold rush were leaving. The number of AC stores began to shrink. The Company was reorganized to fewer stores, a navigation company and river barge lines. In 1922, the Company was sold to a group of employees and re-named the Northern Commercial Company. The employees, led by Volney Richmond, moved the corporate headquarters to Seattle.The Company became a major supplier of heavy equipment and machinery, contributing in the development of Rural Alaska. In the cities, the trading posts became department stores, auto dealerships and tire centers.
By 1974, the Company was being sold again. It was divided into three different companies. The department stores in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Kenai were sold to Nordstrom. The equipment and machinery division was sold to the Skinner Corporation of Seattle, and in 1977, the remaining eleven rural stores were sold to the Community Enterprise Development Corporation of Alaska (CEDC). Those eleven branch stores formed the basis of today's Alaska Commercial Company.
In November, 1992, Alaska Commercial Company was purchased from CEDC by The North West Company (NWC). Alaska Commercial Company, the largest Alaskan rural retailer, was joined with The North West Company, the largest Canadian rural retailer. This made the combined companies the largest North American rural retailer.
The North West Company is a 300-year old Canadian owned company, operating under the "Northern" name. When Alaska Commercial Company was purchased in 1992, NWC had 3,500 employees serving 160 communities in northern Canada. NWC promotes individual creativity and productivity. The Company also encourages, recognizes and rewards success in their competitive markets.
By 1996, Alaska Commercial Company had grown from eleven stores in rural Alaskan communities, to 30 stores in 21 communities. Sales have grown from $11 million per year to over $80 million. Retail prices have gone down and many jobs have been created, which has improved the daily lives of rural Alaskans. The assortment and quality of merchandise is better than ever before. While rural Alaska has grown by leaps and bounds, the local AC store is still a vital center of local community life.
We have inherited a precious gift. As an employee of the Alaska Commercial Company you will share in this gift that is the history of Alaska. Through our efforts and hard work, the history of Alaska and Alaska Commercial Company will continue to go forward, hand-in-hand into the next millennium.