Port Lockroy blog 5: How to run a shop in Antarctica

Port Lockroy’s Shabir 'Shabs' Alidina walks us through the unique challenges of running a shop at 64° South.

Port Lockroy blog 5: How to run a shop in Antarctica

Port Lockroy’s Shabir 'Shabs' Alidina walks us through the unique challenges of running a shop at 64° South.

Port Lockroy blog 5: How to run a shop in Antarctica


Port Lockroy’s Shabir 'Shabs' Alidina walks us through the unique challenges of running a shop at 64° South.

We run and manage the world’s southernmost post office, a museum and a gift shop here in Port Lockroy where visitors can send a postcard home to loved ones and purchase souvenirs. Last year, around 18,000 people visited our base and we rely on their generosity and support which helps the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust conserve Port Lockroy and five other British heritage sites on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Running a shop in a town or city is usually a complex operation, but here at the bottom of the world, in Antarctica, it’s even more of a challenge – Port Lockroy is extremely remote at 64° South.

Receiving our first cargo drop of the season at the Boatshed (Credit: Laura Büllesbach/UKAHT)

Unlike a normal shop, daily deliveries are just not an option as we are at least five days away by ship from Ushuaia, Argentina, or the Falkland Islands. Also, storage on our football pitch-sized island in the Boatshed is extremely limited. The entire season’s stock is shipped to the Falkland Islands where it is temporarily stored until a passing passenger ship kindly offers to collect and deliver it to us, usually only a few times during the year.

With the complications of Avian flu this year, we have adopted a new approach. To reduce footfall on the island, we are taking the post office and gift shop on board passenger ships. This comes with its own set of tricky challenges! 

The actual shop space in Bransfield House on the island has now become an additional storeroom in which we pick and pack onboard shop stock into huge drybags, vital to ensuring everything is waterproofed and kept intact for the journey across the bay in choppy waters which is quite an adventure!

The Shop in Bransfield House has now become a Storeroom (Credit: Shabir Alidina/UKAHT)

No matter the weather, we haul everything in sledges from Bransfield House down to the shoreline, often in snowstorms. Then we form a human chain to transfer stock down the slippery, steep and icy steps to the landing site before loading into a zodiac boat sent by the ship. The journey across the bay from Port Lockroy to the ship is the best daily commute I’ve ever had: panoramic views of ice peaks and glaciers, penguins swimming through the crystal-clear waters and sometimes we even spot a seal sleeping on an iceberg drifting by.

As we stock a large range of items, it’s impossible to take everything, so we can only choose a small selection to take onboard. Depending on the size of the ship, and what we think passengers may like, we handpick our products every day. If there is an item a passenger likes that we were not able to bring onboard that day, we direct them to our online shop where we can deliver to anywhere in the world.

Human chain to load shop stock and other base essentials onto a Zodiac (Credit: Laura Büllesbach/UKAHT)

Once on board, it really gets hectic! We are welcomed onto the ship by the expedition team, carry all our stock to where we have been allocated space to run the pop-up shop, usually one of the higher decks, and quickly set up our small post office and gift shop whilst other team members give a presentation on the work UKAHT does. 

Passengers then queue excitedly, eager to write their postcards and get their souvenirs. It’s a real pleasure to chat with passengers in the shop, share the work of the charity and also be part of their Antarctic experience.

A new ambition this year is to become a cashless shop operation which has involved extensive testing and trialling new technology – a considerable challenge when we are this far south and so remote!

Shabs and Jerome working at a pop-up shop (Credit: Bridie Martin-West/UKAHT)

Sometimes we get an opportunity to take a short break from the busy shop. As we have no running water on base, access to the internet and mainly canned food, the ship kindly allows us to use their facilities, so we grab a quick shower, connect with family and friends online and also enjoy a delicious cooked meal onboard – one that hasn’t been prepared from a tin can back on base! 

Then at the end of the visit, any remaining stock is packed back into dry bags for the journey back to Port Lockroy. Once back on base, we start the process all over again, picking and packing a new selection of products for the following day’s onboard shop. 

It’s a busy but fun life running a shop in Antarctica!

The on-board post office (Credit: Bridie Martin-West/UKAHT)

12 days of Christmas at Port Lockroy

As Christmas fast approaches, the Port Lockroy team are all starting to feel festive on base, so we have created a Port Lockroy version of the carol 12 Days of Christmas:

“On the twelve days of Christmas, my true love sent to me,

Twelve penguin tea towels,

Eleven ski club patches,

Ten charming t-shirts,

Nine button badges,

Eight Port Lockroy magnets,

Seven adopt-a-penguins,

Six children’s books,

Five team members,

Four postcard stamps,

Three woolly hats,

Two tartan scarfs,

And a huge thanks for all your support

– Shabir Alidina, shop manager, Port Lockroy

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