New Sitka bulk store takes bite out of high food prices

Savanah Plank, owner and manager of Sitka Bulk Goods, staffing the checkout counter. The chalkboard shows some customer requests for future orders. (Ari Snider/KCAW)

In Southeast Alaska, high grocery prices are a fact of life. For families with children and pets, the cost gets even higher when you start adding up dog food, cat litter, baby diapers, and other household supplies. Now, one Sitkan is hoping to give those families — including her own — a break.

There’s a new grocery business in Sitka, but you probably wouldn’t find it unless you knew where to look — it’s tucked away in a warehouse on the Sitka Sound Storage property. Fortunately for Savanah Plank, owner of the storage business and the newly opened Sitka Bulk Goods, it seems like most people in town know exactly where to look, after a Facebook post went about as viral as possible in a town of about 8,500 people.  

“I think we had over 8,000 page views in a day, which is just about the town,” Plank said.

Plank had no previous experience as a wholesale grocer — by day she’s a photo editor. But she is a mother of two, and a pet owner, and was looking for ways to save money on groceries and household items. 

She did some research, found she could get a lot of things cheaper by ordering in bulk, and knew that plenty of other families relied on the same products. 

“So I figured I’m a normal demographic, I have kids, pets, course we need diapers and coffee, I need a lot of coffee with two boys,” she said.

As it happened, the Planks had an open storage bay that could work as a makeshift storefront. Savanah put in the first order to a supplier in Washington State, and just like that Sitka Bulk Goods burst onto the scene. 

Last Saturday, Maryann Musewski stopped in to check out the store and pick up some dog food.

“I have a Great Dane so I need lots of dog food,” Musewski said.

She said she heard about the store on Facebook, and is hopeful that it can provide some relief for everyone in town.

“It’s good that a place like this is opening, and hopefully more people will come out here and they’ll get more stock and it’ll help it be more affordable to live in Sitka,” she said. “It’s really hard to live here.” 

Given that both Plank and her husband have day jobs, the bulk goods store is a part time operation, open Wednesday evening and most of the day Saturday.

It’s also a work in progress, as Plank figures out her supply chain and gauges demand for different products. To that end, she’s set up a large chalkboard for shoppers to make requests for the next order. They include standard things like rice and coffee beans, and also some specialty items, like pork ramen and Spam. 

It’s not a full grocery store — no frozen goods, raw meat, or perishables. Rather, the focus is on specific high-demand dry goods and household supplies. 

For Plank, the decision of whether to order a particular product is simple — if there’s demand and she can sell it for less than what’s available in town, she’ll go for it. 

Because at the end of the day, that’s the whole point. 

“I mean my hope is to save people in Sitka some money,” Plank said. “That was kinda my hope, save myself some money, save a lot of families — talking with other moms in the town, it’s really expensive to raise a family here.”

So far it seems she’s hitting that demographic pretty well — they’re nearly sold out of Goldfish crackers.

Sitka’s new bulk goods store is located in a storage bay at Sitka Sound Storage. (Ari Snider/KCAW)