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Canyon Gift Company / Denali Gift Company - What it's REALLY like here.

I am posting this as a reference for future job seekers. The good and bad will be discussed here and you may make your own decisions from them. 

This gift shop chain is nothing short of a sweat shop. In less than a month of being employed here ( over 5 of us are return employees) that is the name used to describe work. Any promises made to you before arriving will be thrown out the window and you will be treated as nothing more than a disposable inanimate object.

Here is some background: Kevin Helwig lives in Alaska and started a small gift shop on his property. This shop eventually grew and expanded into Denali. He built up the town from basically nothing. He owns multiple properties and essentially has a monopoly on the town. Once the nice resorts moved in his businesses exploded. Everything is cheap and made in China unlike the majority of other shops who have high quality products. Kevin is now semi-retired and is in a condo in Vegas. He left management up to Stu, Angie, and Nikki until this year when he decided to install not only cameras but also audio surveillance around the 3 gift shops where he watches, listens, and gives orders to Stu to yell at us about. Kevin does not respect the managers and the in turn do not respect us which create a high anxiety and stressful environment. More will be explained in this post.

PROS: the housing, kind of.

-food is expensive up here, but there is no tax, this is both a pro and a con. You are able to choose and cook your own food, which is very nice especially for those with specific diets. 

-There is a main common house with a kitchen and living room combo and a full bathroom. There is a flat screen TV and TONS of movies to watch. 

-There is a computer with internet in the living room for those who leave their computers at home.

-There is a circle of cabins like a small village with electricity and each has their own full size fridge. There are single houses but most sleep 2 people. There are also couples housing with full size beds.

-The bath house: close to the cabins. there are two separate full bathrooms that are brand new for everyone to use.

-** as an employee you get free comped stuff such as rafting trips, flight seeing, glacier landings, and half off ATV tours, among other adventurous things....however, this is true for ALL jobs in Denali and places like McKinley Chalet will actually have scheduled free trips for their employees to do things together.

CONS: here we go.....

-housing: you have to pay for laundry. $2 per wash, $2 per dry...and the dryer doesn't work so don't waste your money. They have now hired a cleaning person who doesn't clean but they have been instructed by Kevin Helwig to throw any dirty dishes outside of the house for us to clean up. We were threatened that if we leave any dirty dishes in the sink continually he will fire the cleaner and we will all be assigned a chore list.....what are we, 10 years old? Food being soiled outside can attract bears....this is a safety issue at this point.

-Our oven has been broken for weeks with promises to fix it but no luck so far.

-Transportation: we have a van to take us to and from work which is great. If you want to go anywhere else you have to walk over a mile to the 49th State Brewery to catch the bus that comes every 1.5 hours into Denali, it will be $1/person/one way. It's not a bad deal but compared to EVERY other living facility available we are basically isolated.

-Work: Welcome to hell. 

1) you will be promised 40 hours per week with the possibility of over time, working four 10 hour shifts with 3 days off. What you actually get: 28 hours per week working 7 hr days with 3 days off. Also, over time is NOT more than 40 hrs a if you work over 8 hours in a day you get over time. 

2) your every move will be watched and every word you say will be heard. if Kevin doesn't like something he calls Stu upstairs and he calls you and yells at you. This includes if you are standing still for more than 2 seconds without doing something. Not exaggerating. They also listen to your conversations and will not hesitate to call and correct you or comment.

3) returning employees  are supposed to get a $1 raise but they don't get it unless they ask for it. This is ridiculous. 

4) Kevin sent me the wrong contract where I got $1 more per hour than other people. No one but you signs the contract so it's not actually real and they are not abiding to anything. Instead of realizing his mistake and accepting it I was given $30 cash and made to sign a new contract for $1 less. Not only do I get 12 hours less than promised but now I get $1 less than I expected.

5) One of the girls caught a manager taking pictures of them without permission to send to Kevin so he will know who each of us is so when he calls and doesn't like what we are doing he knows your name.

6) you constantly have the vibe that "you are replaceable and unimportant to us...we don't even care about you as a human being"

7) Taxes: our paychecks were all different and they did not have us fill out W2 forms. They had to correct it in the system. VERY UNPROFESSIONAL.

8) if you are at work you are not allowed to have conversations with other employees. if you are NOT at work you are not allowed to come into the store and if you do you better buy something and don't even think about talking to your friends/other employees....someone almost got fired recently for this. If you are at work but you are in one shop and your friend is in another DO NOT GO TO EACH OTHERS STORES, have a meeting place out front or elsewhere: you could get fired. 

We all have been looking for new jobs around Denali because it's beautiful here and it's a great area but we are all literally one step away from writing "help me" on receipts for all of the customers.

Even the returning employees said it has changed drastically and the 'fun work place vibe' the company is putting out to the public is NO LONGER what you get here. Things have changed and it doesn't look good for new employees.

If you want to work in Denali look into McKinley Chalet, McKinley Village, or other 'resort' type of establishments....our friends work there and we are all currently applying there. They treat their employees well and it is cheaper living than this job. You also actually get hours and free transportation on the busses. Princess resort is a nice place to work but the housing looks like a prison concentration camp, not kidding, it is an old warehouse and has barbed wire around it...but it does have a bar on site....if where you live is important to you and you enjoy things like trees then think twice about Princess.

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i used to work for the chalet its a much better outfit they dont treat you like that dorms is ok if you come back the second year u will get a 50 cent raise and better dorms u dont have to walk outside  to the bathrooms

Yes I agree! My friends staying there are sharing a bathroom with 2 other people in the dorms so they don't have to walk outside and it's their first year....they said it depends when you apply. I got a job offer at the Village through them. Everyone seemed really nice and the people at HR are insanely helpful. Thank you for the reply so other people can have an idea of what companies are good to work for!

George Orwells' book of 1984 is becoming more true everyday; hear and see more of it and it will continue so long as the emlpoyers are allowed to get away with it. We will all 'MARCH to a different drummer" and like it or have no jobs. I especially enjoy it when workers travel thousands of miles to only find out what was wriiten and signed by both parties doesn't hold up in a court of law.

Thanks for the observation and first-hand account of you experiences! I hope to see many more that can be saved in an archive for future referance of 'EMPLOYERS TO NOT WORK FOR'.

I have managed Denali Gift Companies since 2013 and would like to clear up some of these issues.  While a few employees have had negative experiences like Heather, 90%+ of the employees that have worked for me have worked the full season and had a great experience.  Most of them have said that they would return if the opportunity arises.  About 25% return to work a second season despite the complications of finding work and housing during the off season.  Our website as well as our coolworks profile clearly lays out what we offer in regards to housing, the positions, and the surrounding area.  

We run three gift shops in the business district of Denali Park where we sell the largest variety of gifts and souvenirs of any retailer.  Yes many of these gifts are made oversees, and are priced as such.  We buy what sells, and in our store these less expensive items perform very well.  Our customers have a lot of family and friends back home and they are looking for something small to bring back for each of them.  We carry some US and Alaska made items but leave the majority of this higher end market to the many other local retailers in the area.  

At the beginning of the season we receive, tag, and merchandise the majority of our product for the season.  At this time we do not have any customers so employees work independently to sort, tag, and fold a great deal of merchandise.  Not everyone loves this part of the season, however it only lasts a couple of weeks, and as with any retail store we can't sell anything if we don't tag it and put it on the shelves.  The advantage is that employees are able to all work the same shifts 9-5, and take breaks at the same times allowing them to make friends from the start.  This is all explained in the interview for those employees that join us for this part of the season.  Once the initial orders are processed we throw a company party to celebrate and things change a bit.  The focus changes from tagging and stocking to helping customers and keeping up with cleaning the store.  Throughout the whole season the work is high paced and consistent as you would expect from a high volume tourist area, and as we thoroughly explain to all of our employees throughout the hiring process.  Employees are free to request specific tasks or areas to work that they like better.

Kevin Helwig is the owner of the gift stores and has been running these businesses in Denali for a long time now.  Him and his wife Linda spend a lot of time working among the stores alongside the employees cashiering, stocking, and moving around displays to make the store look better.  They leave the majority of the management duties up to me, but aren't afraid to point out if an employee is standing around when there is work to do, or if someone is stealing or acting in some other unacceptable way.  We do have cameras installed in the three stores, as do most businesses, and we do check the cameras from time to time to watch business levels or see how employees are doing if we can't physically go to all of the stores at the moment.  If the owners see something wrong on the camera they contact me and I look further into the issue usually by calling or going to the store and talking to the employee about it.  You can ask anyone who has worked for me, I am the last person you will hear yell at someone.

Our housing is $4 per day as advertised, and we no longer pay a cleaning person as it simply doesn't fit in the budget with that low of housing costs.  Employees are responsible for cleaning up after themselves as they leave each common area and this is lined out in every step of the hiring process.  The common areas can become messy when people don't keep up with it, however I consistently ask the employees if there are any issues with the function or cleanliness of the camp and take action to organize a cleaning day or make repairs as requested.  The cleaning is organized among the employees living in camp as a chore list.  This is the best way to fairly break up the cleaning as no one has presented me with specific people that are causing the messes.  We provide pots and pans for the employees to use.  If there are problems with messy dishes these are taken away and employees will have to purchase their own pans and clean and store them in their cabins.  Sometimes the camp decides as a group to enforce the policy that any dirty dishes left in the sink overnight can be thrown in the dumpster so they are not in the way of the other campers and growing mold.  If you don't want your dishes thrown away it's as simple as being respectful and following the policy of cleaning them before you leave the room.  We have never had a bear in camp and would never tell employees to leave food outside where it would attract one.  We have two sets of coin laundry on site and provide laundry detergent and dryer sheets along with the fee to use the machines.  They are in working condition as long as the directions are followed.  Empty the lint catch after each use and only use small to medium loads.  We have two stove/ovens in the shared kitchen and both of them have been in working condition throughout my employment.  

We provide free transportation to and from work.  Employees are welcome to ride into the business district with the work crew on their days off.  There is also a shuttle that runs from the 49th state brewery, or their employee camp (only 2 blocks away) every hour or so.  Their prices change every year but it is a couple of dollars per trip or you can buy a monthly pass.  We also make an employee trip to Fairbanks for cheaper groceries and activities every 2 weeks.   Not every employee can go on every trip but we alternate who is off and gets to go.  Employees get grocery lists for their friends that aren't able to go along.  

We offer 35 hours per week.  Drivers receive more hours as they take the employees to and from camp.  This is the amount of hours employees will receive after clocking out for their required 30 minute lunches each day.  Again this is clearly stated in the interview process.  We sometimes offer overtime if we find ourselves understaffed.  No employee has been promised 40 hours per week in my time working here.  

Just like in any company their is a chain of command to maintain the flow of business and upkeep of our stores.  Management watches the employees to make sure that they are achieving standards, treating customers properly, and yes performing work.  If we see someone standing around and there are tasks to be completed we will ask that person to go focus on those tasks.  Employees are given two 10 minute breaks and a 30 minute break.  We expect them to be working the rest of the time.  We generally have one person working as the main cashier where they will have a constant eye on the register and clean and stock the surrounding area.  Another person will be focused on cleaning the sales floor and helping customers shop.  Another will work at the fudge counter sampling and up-selling fudge.  This person is responsible for cleaning the area surrounding the fudge counter in between customers.  

Our current policy for returning employees is that they have the opportunity to apply to become a supervisor.  Almost all returnees are hired into this position which pays $1 more per hour.  

I work very closely with all of the employees and generally become good friends with most of them.  I ask regularly how everyone's summer is going and for anything that I can improve about the business, job, housing, or any aspect of their summer.  

On the first day every employee fills out a w-4.  I put the information into the payroll system exactly as it is presented on the form.  

We have had issues with employees talking instead of working while on the clock.  We try to make the work environment fun however when employees are standing behind the register talking and ignoring their responsibilities we have no choice but to write them up and eventually terminate them if the issue isn't resolved.  Employees come in from time to time on their days of to say hello, but we do not allow them to hang out for extended periods of time distracting their coworkers who are on the clock. 

We are running a work place, not a summer camp.  Employees are expected to come to work on time, work consistently except on their breaks, and maintain the cleanliness, stock, and flow of customers in our stores.  The experience we provide is not for everyone.  It is great for people that work hard and love camping, the outdoors, and meeting new people.  As mentioned there are other companies in the area offering dorm style housing with meal plans if that is what you are looking for.  Please be sure to read thoroughly through all of the information we provide and be sure that this is the right fit for you before applying. 

I think I missed this the first time around...almost 5 years ago.  I worked here a couple of years earlier in 2010.  The cameras were there then, and I don't think they were I don't see how the decision was made in 2012.

I never noticed anything but respect between Kevin Helwig and the managers and the workers.  I don't think Stu "yelled" at anyone the year I was there.  It seems so unStu-like...but maybe he felt it necessary with the crew he had in '12.

I think I remember a couple of issues with some of the appliances...but they were fixed immediately.

Overall, I have considered this place the easiest and less stressful seasonal job I have had.


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