Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire
Mary Bryant (left) hands off a bag of purchased goods on Monday during the grand opening of Pelican General, the town’s first general store to open in 15 years.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire Mary Bryant (left) hands off a bag of purchased goods on Monday during the grand opening of Pelican General, the town’s first general store to open in 15 years.

New grocery store breathes new life into Pelican

The opening on Monday marked the first grocery store to service the town in 15 years.

Walking down the aisles of Pelican General, the shelves are full. Necessities like milk, bananas, meat and more can be found within a short radius of one another, stocked and ready for shoppers.

Cans of soup and condiments fill one of the aisles in the newly opened Pelican General store on Monday afternoon. The store is the town’s first general store to open in 15 years. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Cans of soup and condiments fill one of the aisles in the newly opened Pelican General store on Monday afternoon. The store is the town’s first general store to open in 15 years. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

It’s hard to imagine just a few months earlier the grocery store didn’t exist — and neither did any other grocery store for the past 15 years for the 60 residents that currently call Pelican, a small fishing village in Southeast Alaska, home.

Instead, to acquire basic items like produce, toilet paper, or toothpaste, residents had little to no choice but to order items themselves and have them flown or ferried in — a burden for the additional costs associated and the fear that items will run out before the next trip.

However, that burden is now much lighter as Monday afternoon marked the grand opening of Pelican General. About 25 people gathered at the store to celebrate with cake and a potluck.

A resident walks to the entrance of the newly opened Pelican General, the town’s first general store to open in 15 years. A grand opening potluck was hosted Monday to celebrate its opening. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

A resident walks to the entrance of the newly opened Pelican General, the town’s first general store to open in 15 years. A grand opening potluck was hosted Monday to celebrate its opening. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

“This is the best thing that has happened here in a really long time,” said Patricia Phillips, the mayor of Pelican.

The store’s new owners, Barry and Heather Bryant, said they hope the store can reunite the community and provide relief to its residents.

Barry and Heather Bryant smile for a photo in their newly opened Pelican General store on Monday afternoon. The store is the town’s first general store to open in 15 years. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Barry and Heather Bryant smile for a photo in their newly opened Pelican General store on Monday afternoon. The store is the town’s first general store to open in 15 years. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

“I want people when they come in here to feel like they’re part of our family — I don’t want to just be a normal grocery store,” Heather said.

The Bryants are no strangers to Pelican, having lived in the town for the past seven years along with a scattering of their 14 children who have called the town as well. The idea to open the store came last November, Heather said, with an agreement to rent the store’s location from the city signed into reality soon after.

“We feel like God wants us here,” she said about the decision. After the agreement was made with the city, she said the family spent time preparing and successfully opened the store for a soft launch in March. The store is located at the same place as the last store that once served the town and the Bryants were able to utilize some of the appliances left behind.

On Monday, residents who attended the grand opening shared kind remarks about the family and the store.

“It brings life back to the community and gives it hope to survive,” said James Braddy, the summer pastor at Pelican’s church. “It’s essential and it gives me hope for the future.”

Longtime resident Norm Carson, in agreement, said “it’s a wonderful service to our community.”

Residents gather for a potluck Monday afternoon to celebrate the grand opening of Pelican General, the town’s first general store to open in 15 years. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Residents gather for a potluck Monday afternoon to celebrate the grand opening of Pelican General, the town’s first general store to open in 15 years. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

In addition to the store, the Bryants also created a small entrance area that has a few couches, a TV and games. Heather said the area was created as an all-ages gathering space for the community, something that didn’t exist for a while.

“One of the main things was that they didn’t have a place to kind of gather, and I feel like the connection between just people coming in and saying hi to each other is huge,” she said.

Since opening the store has played home to many a jam session and family movie nights, with more activities slated in the future.

The store remains stocked thanks to Barry, who days before the bi-monthly ferry trip from Juneau to Pelican, flies down to the capital city and spends the days leading up to its departure at stores like Costco, Fred Meyer and Western Auto buying groceries, toiletries and other necessities for the store to ferry back to the town.

“If you ever go to Costco and they’re completely sold out of ice cream, you can probably blame Barry for that,” Heather said, laughing.

Barry said he plans to continue the current setup until November when the ferry schedule to Pelican shifts to just once a month for the winter ferry schedule. Despite the change, he said the store will continue to remain open and he plans to revise his current plans to adjust as need be.

“We’re going to do our best with what we have,” he said.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651) 528-1807.

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