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Juneau stores get ready for cruisers

Posted: May 4, 2012 - 12:06am
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The first cruise ship passengers of the season disembark from the 2,680-passenger Carnival Spirit in Juneau on Thursday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
The first cruise ship passengers of the season disembark from the 2,680-passenger Carnival Spirit in Juneau on Thursday.

Downtown Juneau is busy with shops preparing to serve many of the nearly 1 million passengers expected in Alaska this summer, the first of which arrived Thursday aboard the Carnival Spirit.

Jarrett Cherkas manages Red Lady Jewels and Curios. Along with hand-crafted jewelry, Cherkas said his shop carries anything from sharks’ teeth to a masterpiece ivory sculpture, even a wild custom piece of jewelry.

Cherkas, a Juneau resident, runs the store with his wife and the store’s owner, his mom.

“It’s a mom-and-pop-kind of an operation. Really, really family,” Cherkas said, “and we live at Marine View, so we’re really, really local.”

Although it’s a new business, Cherkas has managed jewelry stores on Franklin Street for about a decade.

To prepare for the first cruise passengers, Cherkas has spent the winter in construction mode, painting and re-wiring his new shop.

“I had to bust down [the front] door to get the safe in,” Cherkas said. The 5,000-pound, 7-foot-tall safe was too big for the first forklift they tried.

He also traveled in search of new jewelry.

“Because I wanted to seek out more exotic merchandise, that was its own big journey,” Cherkas said. “I have a local artist right now bloodying his fingers finishing goods for tomorrow.”

Though Cherkas has designed his own jewelry, he said he prefers to employ local artists.

“I’d rather give a job to an artist,” Cherkas said. “I love it, I’m not that handy, but I know it looks good.”

And the time demands of running a new business and being a new dad cuts into his hobby time, he said.

This is the second season for the Manila Sunset Grill, located next to the downtown library. Last summer was break-even for the grill, owner Mary Ann Evangelista said.

“But it was very good business,” Evangelista said. “We hope to double it this time,” she said, “we have something going on.”

Evangelista said she puts in 12-hour days in the run-up to her first cruise customers.

“We have to serve them fresh,” Evangelista said. “The barbecue is going to be marinated (overnight) and tomorrow it is ready.”

Tracy’s King Crab Shack, located next to the Manila, has grown in its seven years serving cruise passengers downtown.
This season it added a one-time coffee shack from which to sell beer and wine, owner Tracy LaBarge said. Her cooks benefit with a nearly doubled kitchen space.

She also expanded her outdoor seating.

“I’m hoping it stays steady as it was last year,” LaBarge said, “last year was a good year.” However, she said her business has grown year after year.

LaBarge faces a new challenge in 2012.

“Crab prices are really, really, high this year,” LaBarge said. “We added a couple other Alaska seafoods to offset the crab,” LaBarge said. She added Alaska spot prawns and sea scallops to her menu.

LaBarge has six workers helping prepare for the season with 18 total employees working over the summer, four or five of which are full-time, she said. Many return season after season.

Barb Wilson and Henry Wilson manage Taku Harley Davidson on Marine Drive. While apparel sales increase most during the summer season, cruise passengers have occasionally taken home their own hog.

“We’ve sold a few in the past,” Wilson said.

The big item that Harley-loving cruise visitors seek at the shop is a T-shirt with a custom Juneau Harley Davidson print, Barb said.

“We sell close to the most expensive T-shirt in town,” Henry said.

But the price doesn’t dissuade shoppers, he said.

“We’re the only store in town that people come looking for us,” Henry said. “Because people who are part of the Harley Davidson family, you collect T-shirts.”

The store has 12 designs that can only be found at the store in Juneau, Henry said.

Henry said he hires four full-time and three part-time staffers to meet the cruise passenger business, up from three through the winter.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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