One business owner cites homelessness, economic downturn for store closure

Others see situation downtown as improving with Housing First, other efforts

Those walking down Ferry Way downtown might notice something missing.

 

For the past two years, the stretch of windows lining the south side of the street gave a look into the creation of Alaska Native artwork. Examples of weaving, carving and beadwork stood in the windows of Haa Shagoon, a shop that promoted locally made Native artwork. Sometimes there were even artists working on-site, giving passers-by a peek into the creative process.

As of the end of September, those windows are empty. Shop owner Don Morgan said that he used to greatly enjoy the location because it was a little off the beaten path but still got a decent amount of traffic from cruise ship passengers. Earlier this year, however, Morgan said the spot became less desirable.

“When I first moved here, I loved it,” Morgan said. “Right about the time they closed the Bergmann (Hotel) is when it started getting worse.”

When the city closed the Bergmann in March due to safety concerns, it displaced people who (in many cases) had nowhere else to go. The population on the street rose, and many of them migrated toward the Glory Hole Shelter, Morgan noticed.

The Glory Hole is right around the corner from Haa Shagoon, and Morgan said the combination of the Glory Hole and liquor stores in the area have kept homeless and inebriates around. He said it’s not the only factor in closing his shop, but he said he and other business owners downtown have noticed the shifting demographic.

“People are just tired of it, and the economy is such that people just aren’t spending as much,” Morgan said. “It’s just real tight.”

Not all business owners feel that way, though. Eric Forst, the owner of the Red Dog Saloon, said he’s noticed downtown trending in an opposite direction. Other downtown business experts have also said the rise in homelessness and other store closures downtown don’t appear to be related.

With the implementation of initiatives such as Housing First (which is supplying housing for 32 homeless people starting this fall), Forst said downtown has “started to turn a corner” in terms of a smaller homeless population. Just last week, Forst said, he and his wife were walking downtown and he noticed that he feels much better heading into the winter this year than he did last year.

“I don’t sense the same change in the feel of the winter months as I did last October,” Forst said. “Last October, we were like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s going on?’ This year, I actually think it’s much better.”

Though they disagree on the state of downtown’s homeless situation, Forst and Morgan agree that the state’s economic downturn has made finances tight for many businesses. With a tight profit margin, shoplifting also plagued Morgan. He said he lost all of his profit margin in August due to shoplifters who grab a bracelet or something else small and take off running.

Forst, who is also the vice president of the Downtown Business Association, said the margin for error is getting smaller and smaller for small businesses.

“I think that that’s a lot larger problem, in terms of the overall economy, the state of the state economy is not good for people trying to run a small business,” Forst said. “It makes an already challenging situation more challenging.”

Forst said businesses downtown close every year, and that new businesses always spring up to take their place. For whoever takes over his spot on Ferry Way, Morgan sends a word of caution.

“Good luck,” Morgan said. “Everybody downtown knows what it’s like down here.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com.


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