A huge disservice to merchants of Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Your expos alleging that "Half of Juneau's downtown tourist shops use cheap, foreign-made knock-offs to mislead customers seeking Alaska-made Native art" is an exaggeration at best and libelous at worst.

A reader must sift through the entire article to learn that some clerks in 12 of 26 stores checked by your reporters either were uninformed or misrepresented the origin of articles in their stores. Since there are well over a hundred stores downtown dependent upon tourist sales, this extrapolation does a huge disservice to the merchants of Juneau in general. Listing those whom you deemed "clean" infers ALL others were involved in some level of deception. Agreed, your editorial on the subject softens the allegations to concerning a "few" rather than "half," and we commend you for that distinction. However, the damage done by your headline and the first sentence of your article may already be irrevocable.

Your photographs show authentic Native merchandise from one store. Then the article infers that the SAME store misrepresented non-Alaskan articles as being Native by saying they didn't know where the item was made, yet does not indicate whether this item had a "Made in Alaska" or a "Silver Hand" or no label at all. There is a general blurring between distinguishing whether the problem is generally a misuse of the "Silver Hand," a misuse of "Made in Alaska" sticker authentication, or in some cases as cited simply a price label that covers or partially covers a foreign origin sticker. Violations are indeed violations, however if an article is indeed "Made in Alaska" it is totally legal and appropriate even if its "style" is similar to the traditional form of Native..Of course if the item is made in Asia it must state just that.

Your article notes that a resident of Juneau produces Native art forms, but does not state whether those articles were labeled with the "Silver Hand" of Native art, or the "Made in Alaska" tags. By inference, they would appear to the casual reader to have been labeled with the "Silver Hand." If the articles mentioned were marked as simply "Made in Alaska" then they were, in fact, properly labeled. Although it would seem that the article was intended to only focus on "Native" produced ("Silver Hand") art-work, a reader using less scrutiny would miss the blur between that and articles produced by others under the "Made in Alaska" seal. This Empire article has unfortunately already been picked up by the press in the lower 48, and in our judgment paints an exaggerated picture of a problem which we may have, and thus further degrades the reputation of the City of Juneau as a good and friendly place to visit or to live, or from which to purchase anything.

Destination Juneau Association includes many of our downtown merchants, as well as Lemon Creek and Valley merchants, service industry members, banks, restaurants, hotels, B&B's, medical professionals, tour-related businesses, and individual members. None of us condones misrepresentation. During meetings this fall we will address methods by which buyers can be assured of the authenticity of their purchases.

However, just as we as a group must bear responsibility if any of our members are in fact misrepresenting, or even lying, about origin of goods, so also must the Empire bear responsibility for the libelous generalization describing that half of the merchants of Juneau engage in the "Art of tricking the tourists." Over a hundred downtown stores apparently were never visited by your reporters working on a story, yet lack of inclusion on the accompanying "clean" list infers some level of complicity.

The Empire owes an apology to the merchant community at large for this implication and generic inclusion, and should inform its readership and the national press that its sample finding of less than 10 percent of downtown merchants should not be multiplied to 50 percent of the downtown merchants. The editorial of last night goes part way toward this as it notes that this involves a "few" merchants, and for even that level of clarification we are grateful. We of Destination Juneau thank the Empire for bringing this matter to our attention, and are pledged to solve it for the betterment of Juneau. We look forward to an appropriate response.

Jack Cadigan, President

Destination Juneau


"Alaska-made, Native art" was identified as the subject of misrepresentation in the first paragraph of the article, thus narrowing the focus and eliminating dozens of shops. The number of downtown tourist stores 26 visited by our reporters was cited in the second paragraph. Nevertheless, I apologize to the honest merchants who feel our brush strokes were too broad. Steve Reed, Managing Editor

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