Old 'sale' signs may violate law

Some advertised bargains in downtown Juneau appear to have no expiration date

Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2008

In downtown Juneau, cruise ship customers come and go, but some "sales" stay the same.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Numerous stores along South Franklin Street, where most of the cruise ship tourists mosey, have signs advertising sales - some up to 70 percent off.

But some of those "sales" appear to have no expiration date and may be against a law that so far hasn't topped the list of law enforcement priorities.

Last year, a few local store owners complained to the city about the constant "sales" some downtown stores were having, saying the price discounts were just a reduction from artificially marked-up prices, according to Juneau Assembly member Merrill Sanford.

"It's not right. All you're doing is leading people on," said Sanford, who passed the business owners' complaints on to the Assembly.

Sanford said it's up to the state to enforce the issue because constant sales violates state administrative code.

Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Drinkwater, who works in the state's consumer protection division, said her office would be happy to look into the issue if it received a "pattern" of complaints.

Alaska law states that seasonal sellers, such as those who cater to Juneau's cruise ship customers, can only advertise the same merchandise as being "on sale" for half the season.

But at Klassique Jeweler, manager Chad Samtani said his store has to put up sale signs all season to stay in business. On Wednesday morning, a sign said the day's special was "70 percent off."

The market for selling jewelry to cruise ship passengers in Juneau is "very, very tough," Samtani said, and he'll lose customers to competitors, who also advertise big sales constantly, if he isn't advertising a sale.

"What can we do?" Samtani said. "To do business we have to put signs up to bring the customers in."

Local business owner Bill Young said he doesn't expect the state to step in anytime soon.

"They've got bigger fish to fry," said Young, the longtime owner of the Jewel Box. Young said it's affecting his bottom line to have competitors advertising huge discounts on marked-up prices.

He said he tries to price his items fairly and there's no way he could slash his prices by 70 percent and stay in business. He added that it's frustrating to have customers asking for unreasonably large discounts because his competitors are doing it. He said he tells those customers he can't do business with them.

"We're not going to argue with them," Young said.

Cruise ship passenger Dorothy Dahlin, in town Wednesday from her home in Colorado, said she knows the "sales" she sees in downtown Juneau probably are long-term. She said it's clear the store owners are trying to give their customers the perception they're getting a good deal.

"You know, you go to Mexico and it's the same thing," Dahlin said. "It's worldwide. Everyone wants a bargain."

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.

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