Pot shop clashes with tourism stores in eclectic Alaska town

TALKEETNA, Alaska — The presence of a marijuana retail store has caused a deep divide in this quirky tourist town, where hundreds of visitors roam the streets daily browsing art galleries and souvenir shops housed in historic cabins.

Most of Talkeetna’s stores line the two long blocks that make up its Main Street, where tourists – many who arrive in Alaska on cruise ships and are bused about two hours north from Anchorage – wander into storefronts like Nagley’s General Store for ice cream or slip through its back door for a cold one at the West Rib Bar and Grill.

At Main Street’s opposite end, near a river park where visitors snap photos of the continent’s tallest mountain, is Talkeetna’s newest venture into the tourism trade. The High Expedition Co. is a nod to the rich mountain climbing history of the eclectic community purported to be the inspiration for the 1990s television series “Northern Exposure.”

Talkeetna’s first marijuana retail store is causing a rift not seen in other tourist-dependent towns in this Libertarian-leaning state, where marijuana had a casual acceptance long before it became legal. But even here, like in many pot-legal states, some towns have opted out of sales, fearful it might invite crime and other evils.

In Talkeetna, some shop owners – the ones who built a multimillion-dollar business from the steady stream of mountain climbers who use Talkeetna as a staging point for treks up Denali – say this one shop could ruin the tiny town’s historic atmosphere and harm business like the eight or so stores that serve alcohol along Main Street could never do.

“I don’t think he belongs in downtown Talkeetna,” Meandering Moose B&B owner Mike Stoltz said.

Joe McAneney co-owns the High Expedition Co., which opened in mid-May. “The sky hasn’t fallen on Talkeetna, the sun is shining, and this is now the most photographed shop in town,” he said.

Grabbing the attention of amateur shutterbugs is a small “Cannabis Purveyors” wooden sign on the store’s deck.

McAneney has been working to open the shop nearly since the day in 2014 that Alaska residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana. He and a partner bought the cabin that was originally built for Ray Genet, an early Talkeetna climber and guide who died in 1979 on Mount Everest. McAneney worked with Genet’s family and has incorporated a small museum dedicated to Genet and Talkeetna’s climbing history. But even that association led to some disdain.

“Small towns in Alaska are harder than anywhere to break into and sort of become accepted,” McAneney said.

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