‘New generation’ has business owners optimistic during Alaska Startup Week

Various local entrepreneurs set to speak, brainstorm at public events this week

Zia Boccaccio, owner of the Alpaca International Inc., talks about her successful five-year-old seasonal business in downtown Juneau on Monday, July 24, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Being from a mountainous area of Peru, Zia Boccaccio quickly developed an affinity for the mountains of Southeast Alaska.


Boccaccio, who came to Juneau five years ago to start an Alpaca International outlet, has also rapidly grown to like the business community in Juneau. She’s especially been impressed by new establishments such as The Narrows Bar, Barnaby Brewing and Amalga Distillery, which are owned by young people looking to become long-term presences downtown.

“This year is where I notice more excitement in the business environment,” Boccaccio said. “A new generation (is) coming in, is invested in Juneau, which is really, really wonderful.”

That excitement and pride in investing in Juneau will be on display this week, as local business owners are taking part in two Alaska Startup Week events. The Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC) is co-hosting both events, which include a roundtable discussion at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday and a meet-and-greet with local business owners Friday morning.

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Reecia Wilson, who owns Juneau’s Waterfront Restaurants LLC (including the Hangar on the Wharf and the Twisted Fish), agrees that the downtown business community is benefitting from the involvement of younger business professionals. Wilson also mentioned the new alcohol establishments, and gave credit to JEDC Communications Specialist Dana Herndon for the way she helps open the lines of communication between business owners.

Wilson said it’s inspiring to her to see the young entrepreneurs taking a risk of opening a business downtown. She’ll be one of the speakers at Thursday’s luncheon, sharing the spotlight with Matthew Kern of Barnacle, Midgi Moore of Juneau Food Tours and Grady Saunders of Heritage Coffee Roasting Co. The weekly luncheon takes place at noon Thursday at the Moose Lodge, costing $20 for Chamber of Commerce members and $25 for non-members. An RSVP is required, and Herndon said the event was standing room only last year.

Boccaccio will speak at Friday’s free event — called Choose Juneau: The Case for Doing Business Downtown — which will take place from 9-10 a.m. at the Hangar Ballroom. It’s co-hosted by the Downtown Business Association, and will feature Boccaccio, Jared Curé of The Narrows Bar, Keli Donnelly of Keli’s Concierge and Sydney Mitchell of Shoefly.

The Choose Juneau event will focus on why business start in Juneau and why they succeed. JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst said he hopes the events will also result in brainstorming sessions and inspiration for new business ideas. He also wants the events to show that there are resources for business owners in Juneau and in Alaska as a whole, and that small businesses can succeed across the state.

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Wilson has been able to watch Juneau’s economy fluctuate for nearly 30 years, and has seen the tourism industry serve as a huge boost. Even though the state is in an economic downturn, Wilson said she believes Juneau has the best chance to succeed economically of any city in the state because of the visitors in the summer.

“Juneau’s seasoned business and startups alike have more of an opportunity to maintain or succeed because of our five months on economic steroids thanks to our summer tourism industry,” Wilson said.

Boccaccio has greatly benefitted from that seasonal traffic, especially through partnerships with cruise lines. She has developed such a connection with the city and the community, though, that she’s hoping to become a more permanent presence.

She said some seasonal shop owners downtown have talked about the possibility of staying all year instead of May-September. They already pay rent all year, Boccaccio said, so the investment is there. The issue is that business would be much slower in the winter. Still, with the commitment that young owners are starting to make to Juneau, Boccaccio wants to follow that example.

“I haven’t lost faith that at one point, Juneau will become a year-round operation for my business,” Boccaccio said, “especially now that downtown has changed and the amount of business is going to attract more businesses in perhaps staying year round.”

Know &Go

Invest in Juneau: Now and Then

What: A discussion with business owners Matthew Kern (Barnacle), Midgi Moore (Juneau Food Tours), Grady Saunders (Heritage Coffee Roasting Co.) and Reecia Wilson (Juneau’s Waterfront Restaurants)

When: Noon Thursday

Admission: RSVP on Juneau Chamber of Commerce Luncheon, $20 for members, $25 for non-members

Hosted by: Juneau Economic Development Council and Juneau Chamber of Commerce

Choose Juneau: The Case for Doing Business Downtown

What: A presentation from business owners Zia Boccaccio (Alpaca International), Jared Cure (The Narrows Bar), Keli Donnelly (Keli’s Concierge) and Sydney Mitchell (Shoefly)

When: 9-10 a.m. Friday

Where: Hangar Ballroom

Admission: Free

Hosted by: Juneau Economic Development Council, Downtown Business Association

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com.


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