Russians Head to Alaska to Shop 'Til They Drop Onetime Colony Is a Land of Discounts and Deals

Article excerpt

When Luydmilla Ismailova was on her way home from California to eastern Russia, she made good use of a two-day stopover in Anchorage, Alaska.

In the terminal awaiting the Alaska Airlines flight to Khabarovsk and Petropavlosk, she rhapsodized about the 50 percent markdowns she discovered at the local J.C. Penney store.

"They were the greatest discounts I ever saw," says Ms. Ismailova, director of an English-language center back home in Russia and a frequent business traveler to Alaska and the West Coast. Russian shoppers have discovered American bargains and have become a part of the local economy in the process. An increasingly familiar sight in Anchorage shops and malls, they are highly visible signs of growing commercial and cultural ties between Alaska and Russia, the country that once owned it. Anchorage is well-known among Russians for its retail outlets, says Dima Novgorodov, an exchange student from Irkutsk who's studying at Anchorage's Alaska Pacific University. "The selection and everything is better here, and the prices," he says. Seeing off a friend taking a flight to Vladivostok, and dressed fashionably in flashy athletic shoes and a baseball-style jacket, he ticks off some favorite local destinations for young Russians: "J.C. Penney, Fred Meyer, Sears, Lamonts...." But when it comes to Russians shopping in Anchorage, Mr. Novgorodov and his friends are the amateurs. The pros are the so-called "shuttle shoppers," who stop only briefly to visit the city's discount warehouses and outlets - Costco, Sam's Club, Wal-Mart and K mart - and buy in bulk for resale back home. "We just happen to be the first stopping place," says Russ Howell of the Russian-American Center at the University of Alaska at Anchorage. "They come to Anchorage and shop 'til they drop, go home, and do it again." Most Russian shuttle shoppers are from Magadan, the nearest big Russian city. Some use the regular Monday flight of Aeroflot, the Russian airline. While the plane goes on to Seattle, these shuttle shoppers spend eight hours or so in Anchorage, then board the return flight home. One Magadan businessman who makes regular Monday visits, known as "Mr. Costco," was last seen in that store early this month buying a reported $12,000 in toys. …