Skagway residents got Permanent Fund dividends and city stimulus checks in the same week

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Cruise ship visitors browse Skagway shops on a May afternoon. (Photo by Emily Files/KHNS)

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Cruise ship visitors browse Skagway shops on a May afternoon. (Photo by Emily Files/KHNS)

Permanent Fund dividend checks went out on July 1st. The Municipality of Skagway also mailed out stimulus money to residents last week. That’s giving main street a boost.

Skagway’s boardwalk-lined streets have been pretty empty this summer, since COVID-19 restrictions all but cancelled the cruise ship season. But this last week, the municipality pumped nearly a million dollars in federal CARES Act funds into the local economy.

“We have definitely seen more traffic and more people coming in and maybe shopping longer than they were before all of this,” said Andrew Miller, who manages Grizzlies General Store.

He says shoppers are eyeing big ticket items like mattresses and television sets.

“Hopefully that continues and it really is crucial for us during what we’re calling like the second winter, you know,” he said. “We’re not going to make it all the way through till next summer just without something like this. That’s giving money to people and to spend locally.”

Grizzlies is usually open year-round, but Miller says this year there are no guarantees. He said his family is using the stimulus money to dine out more often, in hopes that local restaurants can keep their doors open too.

He’s not the only one spending the money in town. The manager of the local bank branch said there was a run on cash last week—a sign that the spending is likely to happen locally rather than online.

Resident Reba Hylton lost her job marketing for a local brew pub when the pandemic hit. She said she was able to pay her deferred mortgage and spend a little money on main street, too.

“I have a seven year old boy so right away we bought some new boots for him whereas before, I definitely would have questioned, ‘can we get away with it?’ or, like, ‘no, you don’t need rubber boots in summertime. You can wear your tennis shoes until they fall off your feet,’” she said.

Hylton’s worked in tourism for decades. She said she’s hopeful for next year, but using most of this money to plan ahead—just in case the cruise ship industry doesn’t come roaring back. She’s thinking about her heating bill over the winter.

Mayor Andrew Cremata said that’s exactly what the program is for.

“Empowering the people who live here to spend money locally,” he said. “And on the other side of that coin, make sure that every resident here, especially the ones who have been significantly impacted by COVID, can have the resources to buy groceries, pay their home heating oil bill, pay their electrical bill and be self sufficient. To me that that is the heart and the soul of this program.”

He said he hopes that more federal money will come into the community. He’d like to see the assistance programs continue, and find some more relief dollars to give directly to local businesses.