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Business owners: Summer numbers up this year

The sunny season was a success for downtown and tour businesses

Posted: October 29, 2013 - 11:04pm
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Cruise ship lights reflect in Juneau's harbor waters near the end of the season in September.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Cruise ship lights reflect in Juneau's harbor waters near the end of the season in September.

Pie in the Sky owner Andrea Mogil said she noticed something interesting in this year’s summer customers: They were nicer than usual.

Mogil is one of several downtown business owners who felt the season’s consistently sunny weather — it was Juneau’s second warmest summer on record with less-than-average rain — impacted their shops in interesting ways.

Mogil felt she lost cruise season customers to excursions because of the lovely weather, she said. But although Pie in the Sky wasn’t as “crazy and busy” this summer as it was last, which was consistently rainy and dreary, her revenue was up from last year.

“The upside is everybody was in a good mood,” she said. “They spent more money than the grumpy people whose helicopter flights got cancelled last summer.”

Mogil said she usually sees a bump in business during the summer but expected this year’s uncanceled excursions and downtown construction to deter people from coming into the shop. However, she was pleasantly surprised with her numbers, she said. In her five-and-a-half years at the shop’s Seward Street location, “it’s been a pretty steady increase” in business, she said.

According to City and Borough of Juneau numbers, gross sales by tourist-related businesses have been back on the rise since 2010, when the city saw a dip in its fairly steadily increasing tourism revenue. In 2012, tourist-related businesses made about $245 million; 2011 brought in about $227 million; and 2010 saw $224 million, according to CBJ Finance Department records. Hard numbers for the entire summer of 2013 won’t be available until December, city accountant Clinton Singletary said. Cruise ship season ended on Sept. 25 this year.

However, it makes sense that business would be good — the year’s 995,000 cruise ship visitors in Juneau were up about 58,000 from 2012, almost to the 1 million mark not seen since 2009, according to preliminary numbers in the Juneau Economic Development Council’s 2013 Economic Indicators report. Mirroring the year’s dip in tourism revenue, 2010 was the most recent low for cruise visitors. Increased tourism to Juneau is a good indicator of an upswing in the national economy, JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst said in a previous Empire report.

Red Lady Jewels and Curios owner Jarrett Cherkas said he has gets an instant sense for whether or not a person who drops in his Franklin Street shop will be spending any money there based on how they talk to him.

This summer, his second running the shop, business was up, and he heard a lot less “sob stories” from customers, or excuses why they weren’t able to spend money at the store, he said. He said he thinks this is a sign the economy is perking up.

“‘I’m remodeling my kitchen, my son just lost his job’ — people don’t make those excuses as often,” Cherkas said. Last year, “people were really nervous to spend. You can feel it behind the counter pretty much.”

He also said he noticed a decreased number of tourists shopping downtown this year — rather, they were opting for excursions that were more regularly canceled last year.

Downtown shop owners are “looking for those canceled helicopter tours, because you know you’re going to be making an extra thousand bucks,” Cherkas said. “All of a sudden people are spending money on a big walrus sculpture instead of a helicopter tour.”

Gastineau Guiding owner Bob Janes said his excursion business did do better this summer than last, but only by 2 or 3 percent. But, “being up, even a little bit, is a good thing,” he said.

Many travelers book tours with the company, which offers a variety of guided hikes, ahead of time aboard the cruise ships, so good weather doesn’t impact revenue as much as one might think, Janes said.

“The weather sure made it fun to guide,” he said. “Economically it was a good summer, and operationally it was a good summer. It made us glad we’re in the business and we live here.”

Cycle Alaska general manager Briana Swanson said the company’s tours saw a little spike this summer as well, but the real boost in revenue came in the bike shop side of the operation, at the end of the summer especially. Warmer weather gave people more time to ride — and purchase and service — bikes this year, which paid off for the shop.

“People were more excited and there was a longer riding season,” Swanson said.

Annie Kaill’s owner Colleen Goldrich said the sun also paid off for her business. The Front Street gallery saw an increase in revenue from last summer, she said. She thinks tourists were coaxed to venture past the initial Franklin Street shopping corridor because they weren’t getting rained on.

Often, by the time tourists make it near Annie Kaill’s, “they’re done, they just want to get back on the ship,” said Goldrich, who purchased the shop in June but has worked there since 1999. “Maybe they were out walking around a little more. The ones we got were pretty happy to get to town.”

Travis Smith, co-owner of the Rookery Café on Seward Street, said business has been steadily increasing since the shop opened in 2010, and this summer was no different. He said tourists bought less hot coffee because of the warm weather, but the business made up for it with its new dinner service. The Rookery finished an overhaul of its kitchen in July, increased its hours of operation and started serving a changing dinner menu, which has more than doubled its business, Smith said.

“It basically added a whole new business to the business,” he said. “We had 11 employees in January. We have 31 now.”

More than anything, Pie in the Sky’s Mogil said, having beautiful weather during the most swamped season for downtown business owners makes it better regardless of revenue.

Said Mogil: “I was happy with my business this summer because it was a lot more fun.”

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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