After 29 years running their downtown bottle shop together, Oke and Robert Rodman have decided to stop and smell the roses.
Percy’s Liquor, a stalwart of Juneau’s everchanging downtown business scene, will sell its last imported cigars and craft beer on Black Friday. The Rodmans have sold their liquor license to Thibodeau’s Liquor and will retire. The shop may reopen after the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board transfers license ownership.
With Oke and Robert goes one of downtown Juneau’s last mom and pops. In a Friday interview with the Empire, the couple said they’ll miss greeting regulars, making small talk with business owners and the bike rides from their Douglas Island home.
“We’ve seen a lot of people through the years, just have them come in. Things move on, you know,” Robert said, at a loss for words. He reached into a cabinet to share a picture of some old friends on his softball team. He rediscovered it going through old boxes at the store.
“We’re gonna do some traveling,” he added. “Hang out, watch the kids grow.”
The couple has worked seven days a week at the business. Oke said it’s taking a toll on their bodies, and she’s looking forward to having more time for family and other things. But there’s a sense of community on the block she’ll miss.
“We wish we can continue more, but we can feel the body changing and we don’t have enough energy,” Oke said. “Small town feel, that’s what I’ll miss the most. I’ll miss a lot of people, relationships.”
The closing is a bittersweet moment for them both: they’re saying goodbye to a business that’s been a touchstone in their lives since the late ‘80s. The Rodmans have seen their regulars grow up and have kids.
“I guess it starts with Trappers Tobacco,” Robert explained, referencing a short-lived tobacco shop that went out of business in the ‘80s. With the remains of Trappers’ inventory, Oke started Great Northern Tobacco.
When a liquor license came up for sale, the couple started selling liquor, beer and wine. Percy’s Liquor was a hub back then: Oke and Robert sold newspapers and tobacco to local business owners. Their shop was a pit stop for many downtown denizens.
“It was kind of an interesting hub of old-style Juneau, people would come to the liquor store and get newspapers. It was kind of unusual. We’d get all the local business owners that worked and lived downtown,” Robert said.
More people lived downtown then and didn’t leave after the cruise ship season ended, Robert said. The cold storage was still open. The Gastineau Apartments wasn’t yet condemned. Alaskan Brewing Company owners Geoff and Marcy Larson delivered beer to the shop in person.
The first couple of decades of ownership, the Rodmans would keep the store open until bar close. A line would form out the door near closing time. They had to employ a bouncer, letting only 10 people in at a time. “People drank differently in the old days,” Robert said.
But things changed. They’ve noticed more homelessness, more violence and more drugs downtown in the last few years. Their daughter’s car was rifled through last week across the street from the store. They no longer feel safe enough to stay open late.
The clientele has changed over the years, too: more chronic inebriates, fewer businessmen and bar hoppers. “We started opening later and closing earlier,” Robert said, to avoid what they say was an increasingly dangerous drinking environment. It wasn’t good for business, but because they ran the store themselves, they could afford it.
“It’s been a pretty dramatic change,” through the years, Robert said. “I wouldn’t want my daughter walking downtown alone.” An ambulance pulled up outside Percy’s Liquor during the interview. Robert says he sees a similar scene every day in the winter and “three, four, five” times a day in the summer.
“It’s distressing and we try not to add to that,” Robert said. “We’ll miss the people, but we won’t miss that end of it.”
It hasn’t been all bad changes over the years. Percy’s Liquor has gone through two craft beer booms, Robert said, one in the late ‘80s and one more recently. In the last few years, Percy’s Liquor has become the go-to shop for Juneau’s craft beer heads. Robert said he depends on his daughter and son-in-law, a homebrewer who worked for him for several years, to help pick out the beers.
“The market changed pretty dramatically in that younger people were into the craft beer scene. Especially this last go around, they were the early adopters of getting something unusual,” Robert said. “Who would think that a 750-milliliter beer would go for $20 or $30?”
A recent health scare told the couple it was time to close for good. An avid biker, Robert was cycling in Palm Springs, California three weeks ago when he suffered a heart attack. When he got out of the hospital, the couple visited a rose garden.
“There’s a city park, a really beautiful park. There’s a rose garden, thousands of roses, beautiful. He tried to smell every one of them,” Oke said admiringly. “That’s what he does every day, every morning.”
“You have to do it,” Robert said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or email@example.com.