The Mendenhall Valley’s Airport Shopping Center has a history of staying in the family, a signature facet for many Juneau establishments. The owners strive to keep that locality in both the buildings and their stores, even in the midst of updates.
The shopping center has just undergone some aesthetic renovations, which the owners say is the first of such upgrades in the place’s 40-year history.
The mall portion, which houses the Amazing Bookstore, Village Barber Shoppe, Alaska Industrial Hardware and Alaska Dames and Gents, is adorned with new awnings and metal trim around the planters. Metal accents cover the pipes above, with new lighting fixtures as well. This is on top of improvements over the last few years, including dropped ceilings and new doors.
The construction was done in two phases under Rich Conneen with work by Four Stories Construction and Carver Construction.
“This is the first real improvement here since the beginning,” said Marsha Erwin Bennett, who is the last of the second generation of the shopping center’s owners. Other owners are still in the family and include her son, Peter Bennett, and his cousins, Kristy Andonian, Mike Burling and Kathy Munzel. She said the Airport Shopping Center has always been a family enterprise.
More planters will be arriving next summer, as well as other future improvements on the exterior.
“We’re upgrading to attract tenants into the mall and show our current tenants that were interested in keeping it up and making it more modern for everybody,” said Larry Baur of Baur and Associates. Baur manages the Airport Shopping Center, Mendenhall Mall and other properties.
Bennett said she also hopes the renovations will encourage other Juneau proprietors to modernize their establishments and keep them fresh for customers.
Baur said the Airport Shopping Center is a success in business with a high occupancy rate. There is only one vacancy and most tenants are long-term.
Besides the architectural improvements, the walls are adorned with various historic scenes of the valley and Auke Bay, focusing the area on its link to Juneau history. These works were done by Daniel Buckscott.
Bennett keeps the shopping center’s history alive as a point of pride. Her parents, Marshall and Vivian Erwin, bought the area and turned it into Glacier Village in 1968 and 1969. This was a grocery store that eventually became the hardware store. Northwest Coast Native carvings from this original grocery store were donated to the Huna Heritage Foundation.
The whole area was renamed the Airport Shopping Center in the early 1970s.
“It was the first commercial establishment in the Valley,” she said, noting that most businesses were concentrated in downtown, as was her own family’s, previously. Bennett said the valley was mostly dedicated to residential properties at the time.
“Everyone thought we were nuts leaving the downtown area,” she said.
Her father designed the mall section of the shopping center. The second section was a gas station that has since become Valley Auto Parts.
The Airport Shopping Center has grown from a single establishment to more than a dozen, including Donna’s Restaurant, Curves, Heritage Coffee, Mommy-N-Me Wear, Marlintini’s, Martha’s Weddings & Flowers, Jovany’s Restaurant and Homespun Mercantile.
“The difference between us and big malls is everyone knows local businessmen so it’s more like the downtown malls,” said Bennett.
The shopping center’s heart of mom-and-pop establishments over chains is not lost on its tenants. Joe Shepherd owns the barbershop after taking over the place from his father, Wayne. He said it’s a great source of pride to not only be the oldest barber shop in town, but to be the only store remaining from the mall’s beginning.
• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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