Downtown tourism business spotty this season

Some stores say tourists aren't buying as much, though some restaurants say they're faring well

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Lots of tourists step into Cha For the Finest on South Franklin Street to browse, but few are buying Cha's ivory, bone and glass creations.

"The first part of the season was OK, and then (business) slacked off," Cha said.

The Juneau artist attributed the slow sales to a run of bad tourism years pockmarked by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and general economic malaise.

"Whenever people are really concerned about the economy, the first thing to go is art," the gallery owner said.

It's too early to tell how downtown business owners in general are faring, said Lorene Palmer, president and chief executive officer of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We don't have any figures yet, and we won't until later on in the season," Palmer said. "It's similar to last year in the sense that it's very dependent on what segment of the market you serve."

Palmer said businesses that depend on overnight visitors or independent travelers are having a more difficult time than others.

"A lot of it has to do with the attractiveness of the cruise experience and the value. The economy and SARS and war, all of that has dampened travel in general unless you're in a nearby driving location," she said.

Rita Dienst, owner of the Northern Lights gift shop, said business is about the same as last year.

"There's times where there's no one, and there's times where you have it wall to wall," Dienst said.

Downtown Business Association Marketing Coordinator Valerie Fremlin said business has been spotty.

"Some are doing very well, others are starting to pick up progressively as the season goes on," Fremlin said. "I think that purchases are probably to the more inexpensive items."

Fremlin's business, Fremlin's Forge'Ry and Knife Works, has endured a slow start to the season.

"It seems a lot of people are looking, but you don't see a lot of shopping bags," Fremlin said. "It takes a while to kind of get the momentum rolling, I guess."

But for restaurants, business has been brisk.

"We're having a great year. Compared to last year, we're up," said Bruce Legas, general manager of the Red Dog Saloon.

Legas attributes his business' success to its name recognition and location downtown by the cruise ship docks.

Twisted Fish manager Tom Maclay said business at his restaurant has been very good.

"We may have been bracing a bit for a little downturn, from the economy, and booking from the cruise ships, people concerned about the war, but we really haven't seen an effect from that."

Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.



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