- Associated Press - Friday, May 16, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The Alaska Marine Highway System is starting the planned phase-out of the gift shops on its ferries as part of a cost-saving effort.

State transportation department spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the gift shops - which have been on the five mainliner vessels - are expected to be gone by the end of this year or early next, depending on how fast their remaining items sell.

The gift shops don’t make money and cost about $1 million a year to operate, Woodrow said. It’s a good time to begin the phase-out now, he said, since the ferry system traditionally orders gift shop items in bulk, and the inventory is starting to thin out. Rather than restock, officials decided to start the phase-out this spring.

Already, the gift shop on the Malaspina is gone, and the shops will be gone from the Taku, which is currently offline, and Matanuska by the end of June, he said. The Columbia and Kennicott will carry items through the end of summer. Whatever is left will be combined on the Kennicott for sale until the items are gone or have dwindled to a point at which having a shop open is not justified, he said.

The boats will continue to carry sundries, like razors, aspirin, shampoo or toothpaste, he said.

The gift shop spaces could be repurposed for things like vending machines or a quiet area for passengers, Woodrow said.

The department also was considering how to make marine highway system logo items available for sale, perhaps by expanding online offerings or selling items in the boats’ cafeterias, Woodrow said.

The ferry system is a common alternative to air travel for Alaskans, from the Aleutians to Southeast. During the height of the summer season, though, the highest percentage of traffic on the boats tends to be visitors, Woodrow said.

Officials have been looking at ways to cut costs without reducing service. The system also has been studying its fare structure.



Alaska Marine Highway System: https://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs



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