Downtown's `Good old Days' weren't so good

Posted: Monday, May 22, 2000

In 1974, along with two partners, I opened a small business on South Franklin Street. Foggy Mountain Shop was originally located upstairs in what is now called the Emporium Mall. Since that time, I have observed many changes in the downtown business community.

The memories I have of some aspects of the ``good old days'' are not as pleasant as those of Mr. Paul Helmar and the members of the Peace and Quiet Coalition. Back in the 1970s, downtown business owners often had to deal with those unfortunate characters who ended up in their doorways after a hard night. Some mornings when I would come to work, I would open the door leading to the stairwell of my building only to be greeted by an indescribable stench. I would then have to deal with removing one of the so-called colorful characters just so I could open my shop and begin my workday.

The city didn't have the resources back then to help those less fortunate members of the community that they have now. Private businesses had to make do to keep the areas around their stores cleaned up and free of what some affectionately remember as the ``local color.'' Unfortunately for me, the area around my business included the infamous Wino Alley. I not only saw but also had to deal directly with some very real and disturbing things in those days. I don't miss that depressing, darker side of downtown.

Are people truly serious when they reminisce about the ``good old days'' in places as seedy as the Dreamland? I have many fond memories about places I went and things I did as a young person in the 1970s, but spending time in the ratty downtown bars is not something I think I could get sentimental about.

Don't kid yourself about the ``good old days.'' Many of the stores that some are now suddenly nostalgic about went out of business for one reason - people stopped shopping there. This includes members of the Peace and Quiet Coalition and Cruise Control who now lament the passing of these old establishments.

I remember downtown closing up around our shop. I remember worrying endlessly if we would be next. But we managed to stay afloat, through the boom times of the 1970s and the bust times of the 1980s. We hung in there until the steady growth of tourism in the 1990s began to help our business prosper.

Now there are those who want to go back to the ``good old days,'' but I am not one to live in the illusory past. I love Juneau and have shown that love by living, playing, working and raising a family here for almost 30 years. I have watched the growth of this town closely and I have especially watched the growth and development of the downtown area.

I love what I see happening in Juneau. We enjoy clean, safe streets and colorful, lively sidewalks in the summer. I see my daughter and her friends wanting to travel home from school so they can get great summer jobs. I see people from all over the world enjoying the vacation of a lifetime in our hometown. I can still hike, climb and ski in the mountains that are right out my back door. I bicycle, kayak, garden and fish in the summer and probably spend more time outside now than I did 25 years ago.

No color, humanity or flavor in our community today? That is simply not true. My family, friends and neighbors continually provide me with more than enough fond stories and memories of a lifetime spent in a unique and extraordinary town. And I don't have to put on rubber gloves to clean up after them.

The dark days of dilapidated buildings and crumbling sidewalks have been replaced with a Juneau that bustles with commerce and is rich in color and character. We should be thankful for these positive changes. Maybe there are some that mourn the days of their youth when they could stay out all night partying, the state flowed with pipeline money and the sky was the limit. As for myself, I am proud of the way our town has grown up.

Betsy Fischer, along with her husband Scott, owns the Foggy Mountain Shop.

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