Alaska Shoppers Greet H&M With Gusto

If you were at the Dimond Center on Thursday, you only had to follow the sound of techno music to find H&M. Hundreds of people were lined up outside the store for its Anchorage debut.

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It took about $9 million in renovation work to ready the Dimond Center for H&M. Photo: Monica Gokey/KSKA.
It took about $9 million in renovation work to ready the Dimond Center for H&M. Photo: Monica Gokey/KSKA.

There was screaming, flash mob dancing, free giveaways – things like selfie sticks and gaudy H&M sunglasses. And H&M gift cards for the lucky ones.

Deedee Harris was in line about two hours before the opening…. she moved to Alaska from California. The shopping here, she says, is lackluster:

“Honestly, I really wish they had a Macy’s and a Victoria’s Secret…. and, I can’t think of everything right now, but really a Macy’s — that’s my favorite store,” Harris says. “Normally they don’t have the stuff that I like here, like they don’t really have variety here in Alaska, so I usually shop online a lot or I have my parents send me stuff.”

But Harris says she’s pumped for H&M. It wasn’t one of her regulars in California, but she’s excited to give it a try.

H&M is one of several national brands opening doors in Anchorage this year. Bath & Body Works opened at the Fifth Avenue Mall earlier this summer. And Nordstrom Rack is scheduled to open later this fall.

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DeeDee Harris waited in line for about two hours before H&M opened. Photo: Kaysie Ellington/AKPM.

Last year Cabela’s, Bass Pro and a number of national restaurant brands come to Anchorage. Overall, Anchorage lost jobs last year. But jobs in retail grew three and a half percent — the largest growth of any employment sector, according to a state labor report.

For Dimond Center owner Hugh Ashlock, today’s H&M opening was the culmination of a three-year courtship with the Swedish fashion giant.

“We were able to give them a two-story fascia on a major street and give them the brand image they want,” he says.

That brand image H&M wanted, Ashlock says, had about a nine-million dollar price tag — which was split between the retailer and the Dimond Center.

“H&M always wants a flagship in every market. And they want to do what’s called their full brand expression, which in H&M’s case is a very modern, white, clean two-story fascia with a lot of glass. And so we were able to do renderings to show them — we researched their best-looking stores, and then I did a rendering showing them on that corner. And that really sold them: here’s what you can have at the Dimond Center.”

H&M opened in Anchorage on July 16. Photo: Monica Gokey/KSKA.
H&M opened in Anchorage on July 16. Photo: Monica Gokey/KSKA.

 

The process Ashlock just described, doing the store renderings and showing H&M that they could, in fact, have a sexy-looking store in Alaska — that is not the norm. Malls in the Lower 48 don’t usually have to woo retailers to that extent:

“You know, sometimes selling Alaska is more difficult than selling Dimond Center. But once they’re up here, they do really well.”

With falling oil prices and fiscal belt tightening in other areas of the Anchorage economy, retail growth is forecasted to slow down this year. But hundreds of fashion-hungry shoppers lining up outside H&M show us that Alaskans are, indeed, hungry for national brands.