Dennis Corrington made his way to Alaska as Principal of a Native Alaskan Regional Boarding School in Nome, Alaska in 1966. During the summer school break, Dennis would visit the villages to recruit new students, which often resulted in requests for hard-to-get items like ice boxes, outboard motors, snow machines, and even houses. During this time Dennis built strong relationships with the villagers who preferred to settle their debt with native art, particularly ivory carvings.
So, it was not surprising that he developed a keen eye for high-quality native art, and, with his newfound supply of ivory carvings, opened the Arctic Trading Post in 1970. A few years later he moved his family to Skagway to expand his thriving trading business. This was before tourism flourished in Alaska; a time when Skagway had less than a tenth of the visitors it has today.
Before leaving Nome permanently, Dennis ran the 1,049 mile Iditarod dog sled race ending in Nome satisfying his ambition to compete in a race that he actually participated in helping to form through the Nome Kennel Club in 1971-72.
Nancy remembers the first time she saw the mountains of Alaska shortly after she and Dennis eloped in 1984. Previously, her only exposure to mountainous scenery had been in Colorado. When Nancy arrived in Alaska, “the Rockies looked small by comparison,” she said.
“Every April, when we return to Skagway for the summer, we are so impressed by the beauty and the immenseness. It’s so large, and so awe inspiring that it can make you feel pretty insignificant.”
The Corrington’s split their time during the winter between Naples, Florida and St. Louis, Missouri, where they spend time with their 8 children and 19 grandchildren. The family keeps them busy, but they also have to prepare for the reopening of their summer businesses where they sell a variety of products meant to give visitors a memorable experience.
The couple has been an integral part of Skagway for decades, growing their original log cabin business into multiple retail locations: the Skagway Outlet Store, Corrington’s Alaskan Ivory & Museum, and Alaska Knife & Ulu Store.
Dennis and Nancy sell souvenirs at the Skagway Outlet Store and high-end art at their other businesses including a selection of native Eskimo art and memorabilia, dancing polar bears, scrimshaw, soapstone, jade, and walrus and mammoth ivory carvings.
“We try to have as much native art as we can, but it’s a dying breed. It’s just not being passed on to younger generations as it once was. At one point we had 10, 12, 14 expert carvers. Now we’re lucky to work with one or two.”
Their relationships with artists and vendors is reflective of the personal nature of the guest experience. It’s in their mission statement to “provide every customer who walks into our stores with the most enjoyable shopping experience of their trip to Alaska.” The result is “so many repeat customers who come back again and again,” Nancy said. Their customers have included Graham Nash, of the rock band Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner and Harrison Ford.
“What makes it all unique is that we’re still doing this after 47 years,” Nancy said, adding that Dennis’s enterprising nature was part of what got their business underway.
“It all started with Dennis trading essentials for ivory carvings. Dennis is one of the few people who can say they have traded an ice box to the Eskimos — in their native language.”