Tongass Trading Company has been a fixture on dockside Ketchikan for more than a century, and is worth a visit anytime you are in Alaska. As stores go, it takes “Alaska big” as its measure: four stores boast the most diverse inventory of any other locally-owned business in the state, and it sells more Xtratuff boots and Alaska fishing licenses than just about anywhere else too.
As the oldest continually operating business in the state – since 1898 – Tongass Trading Company is a living symbol of Ketchikan history. Throughout the years, it has outfitted miners, loggers, fishermen, tourists, those who work in the tourism industry – and even locals needing a tux rental or evening gown for prom!
A visit here combines history, convenience, an amazing variety of goods and great deals. Walking out with an iconic red Tongass Trading Company bag – as approximately 180,000 customers do each year – serves as proof that you’ve discovered something notable, useful, or simply a bargain too good to pass up.
Over the decades, this historic retail landmark experienced fire, bankruptcy and changes of ownership, but it has remained a fixture on Ketchikan’s Dock Street. If you need a trinket, if you want to see what Alaskan men and women really wear, or you just want to visit a store whose history goes back to before Ketchikan was incorporated – stop by Tongass Trading Company.
More about Tongass Trading Company Triangle
At the turn of the century Ketchikan blossomed with miners and Tongass Trading Company was there to sell them gold pans, picks, blasting powder and anything else they needed. They then started catering to local residents and got into housewares with the purchase of a furniture store in the 1920s.
In the 1930s, Ketchikan earned its reputation as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” with Tongass Trading Company brokering fish, outfitting the commercial fishing fleet with halibut hooks, flashers and hoochies, and stocking clothing and equipment for cannery workers too. And if you were looking to buy a gun, guess where you’d find it?
In the second half of the century, logging became 60% of the economic life of Ketchikan. Floating logging camps were entirely decked out from Tongass Trading Company: housewares, mattresses, PVC pipe used for plumbing, down to the galvanized steel pins that held the log base of the camp together. And of course, if you needed a hardhat, chainsaw, suspenders or a pair of Carhartts, you’d find it there too.
As the logging industry was shutting down, Tongass Trading Company adapted to the tourist industry, providing a bevy of Alaskan souvenirs on the first floor, and weather-ready clothing on the second.
The selection at Tongass Trading Company can be overwhelming, so plan ahead. Looking for something specific? Ask a clerk right away. Want to shop a particular department? See our guide to each store and what it offers below. Want to soak in the history and the character of Ketchikan? Wander through the main buildings and enjoy the displays of antique equipment, old photos and modern gear that Alaskans wear and use on a daily basis.
Tongass Trading Company is the only retail store located on the docks in all of Southeast Alaska. This makes is especially convenient to shop for your souvenirs and store them back on the ship before any excursions. In any other town, you’d have to walk or take a taxi to four or five different stores to find the variety offered at Tongass Trading Company. Having everything all in one place does present one challenge: having enough room in your luggage. That’s why it offers quick and easy shipping options too.
Competition in Southeast Alaska creates an environment where tourists can find better prices and deals than any other tourist area in the world, so take advantage while you’re here. Tongass Trading Company regularly offers further discounts, so watch for in-store coupon books, online specials and advertised sales in the Ketchikan Daily News.
The Tongass Trading Company Triangle (“where high prices disappear!”) references the company’s three main stores right in the heart of town: between Docks 2 and 3 and on Dock 4. That’s where your adventure should begin. At each location, expect friendly, knowledgeable staff members who thrive on the dynamics of a high volume store and meeting customers from all over the world.
The Dock Store
The Dock Store at 201 Dock Street rests on the site of the original Tongass Trading Company marine store, which burnt down in 1970. As the name implies, it sits right on the dock and is a favorite first stop for cruise ship visitors. The “Inside Passage Curio Store” on the first floor offers 10,000 square feet of souvenir offerings (the largest curio store in the state) and a convenience department. Be sure to take your picture with “Fred,” the 9.5 foot tall polar bear (after all, John Wayne did in 1969!) and check out all the antique mounts and traps. Souvenirs range from made-in-Alaska items such as totem poles and ulu knives, to a huge selection of great t-shirt designs, holiday ornaments and other trinkets. A “Wall of History” decorates the stairwell and illustrates the rich history of Tongass Trading Company. The mother lode of outdoor shoes, clothing and gear is upstairs in the “Alaskan Outdoor Outfitters” and the Sporting Goods departments. An Alaskan brown bear display overlooks the scene, with every quality name outdoor brand represented – from North Face, Patagonia and UnderArmour to Merrell, Xtratuf and Wesco. Find anything you need for hunting, fishing, camping, and recreating. In the Spring there’s sometimes an “Ugliest Carhartt Trade-In Contest” and we hear that some entries can stand up on their own!
The Menswear Building / Ladies Loft
The Menswear Building/Ladies Loft at 312 Dock Street is kitty-corner to the Dock Store, so is your second stop on the Tongass Trading Company circuit. This building is listed on the historic register. It dates to 1913 and sits on the exact spot where the first two stores were located. Browse through casual and formal wear and a large selection of shoes. Menswear is located on the first floor and the Ladies Loft is upstairs. An educational display featuring the five types of Alaska salmon and the salmon lifecycle is also located here.
The Marine and Outdoors Store
The Marine and Outdoors Store at 2521 Marine Works Way and The Furniture House at 2324 Tongass Avenue cater mainly to local residents and continue the long tradition of providing the essentials for living and working in Southeast Alaska: from fishing tackle, kayaks, guns, and marine hardware, to living room, dining room, bedroom and home office furniture.