Mushers are racing towards Nome. And so are the tourists. A small business owner is gearing up to capitalize on the influx.
Some say Nome’s population doubles during Iditarod. Though that’s an exaggeration, for small business owner Erin Forton, it’s kind of true.
“I try to have about double the amount of supplies on hand,” Forton said. “I know that we go through about five pounds of espresso every two or three days, and last year during Iditarod, we went through five pounds of espresso beans every day.”
Forton owns Bering Tea Company, Nome’s only coffeehouse. The shop sells organic, fair-trade foods and Alaskan roasted coffee. It has become a favorite place for people who want to step out of the cold and grab a warm drink while waiting for mushers to cross the finish line.
But preparation begins long before the race even starts, all the way back in January. Forton began placing orders after the New Year for what she calls “tourist-type items:” things like t-shirts and mugs and other paraphernalia for people to take home.
When the town swells with Iditarod fans, Forton will fly in extra help, and offer extended hours.
“Last year was our first year that we were open through Iditarod, and we ended up staying here, open an awake until 3am, because we didn’t want to close when there were customers in,” Forton said.
Across Nome, the Iditarod rush brings a short-term revenue boost to small businesses. Forton says, for Bering Tea, she’s turning it into a long-term advantage.
“Most of the added revenue from this Iditarod is going to go towards making the building more efficient and more self-sufficient,” Forton said. “Things like better insulation and lower energy use lights. Things that will make it even cheaper to run.”
But the best part of Iditarod, Forton says, is the new faces and the stories they bring.
“I love meeting all the new people and hearing their stories. And sometimes they come up on a whim and sometimes it’s been their 25-year goal to see the finish of the Iditarod,” Forton said. “It’s really cool to see the differences that people have in stories and how they came here and why they came here.”
And this constant stream of people, Forton says, carries another upside. She can run the shop while the customers keep her up on the race details.