Grocer sails 14 hours a week to keep Alaskan town fed

The biggest weekly shop in the world?

Gustavus is a coastal town in southeastern Alaska. It's small – less than 500 people live within its 38 square mile perimeter – and it's very remote: not only is it on the end of a peninsula, but it's separated from the rest of Alaska by the ice fields of Glacier Bay National Park.

There isn't a single road connecting the town to the mainland, so all food, supplies, and other goods are brought to the town either by plane or by boat. As you might have guessed, this can prove to be challenging on even at the best of times.

Maybe it was due to the difficulty of reaching the town that, when the COVID-19 pandemic altered supply chains, deliveries to them were cut off. The town was approaching a food crisis. Fortunately, Toshua Parker, a Gustavus resident and grocer, stepped in to solve the problem.

Since deliveries were cut off in April, Toshua has led his team on a weekly 14-hour voyage to get supplies on his 97 foot boat. Every week, Toshua pilots the barge through the icy waters surrounding the town for 7 hours, eventually reaching Juneau, Alaska.

Once there, he uses his Costco card to stock up on $20,000 worth of essentials. To ensure he gets everything anyone might need, he takes orders by phone, creating a massive list each week to be sure to get everything his 446 neighbors.

On choosing stock, Parker told The Hustle: “It’s an art form, not a science.”

“The town might have a 100-gallon swing in demand for milk from one week to the next without any explanation of why. One week, nobody wants whole milk; the next week, everyone wants 2%.”

He then turns around and makes the 7-hour voyage back to Gustavus where he uses the supplies to stock his grocery store, Icy Strait Wholesale (AKA ToshCo). Once stocked, he notifies the town via the store’s Facebook page.

On this same Facebook page locals pour out admiration for their savior. “Thank you Toshua, Cassie, and all the wonderful employees at Toshco that keep Gustavus stocked,” one commenter wrote. “We are fortunate to have such dedicated people keeping us fed and supplied.”

“Toshua pretty much saved the town,” Gustavus’ Mayor Casipit said in an interview with Tanks Good News. “I really don’t know what we would’ve done without him.”

Toshua's family has always been central to the town. In fact, his great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Parker, was the area’s first permanent homesteader back in 1917. The Parker family have proudly called Gustavus home ever since, and 10 years ago Toshua opened his grocery store, Toshco.

“It’s like Christmas when the load gets here,” Toshua added. “Everyone is waiting for it. Word gets out, and they all seem to know when it’s coming."

Parker’s profit margins are lean. He can’t raise his prices too far above what it takes to cover the high costs of barge maintenance, labor, refrigeration, logistical planning, and gasoline. But his community is grateful for the hero’s effort, and Parker knows how much they depend on him.

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