Downtown shops feel ripples from East Coast attacks

So far Juneau's business losses are estimated at $2.5 million since the Sept. 11 violence

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Irina Siegrist of downtown's Grandfather Frost gift shop said her customers changed after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast two weeks ago today.

"People looked different. They didn't want to spend any money," said Siegrist, assistant manager of the Russian gift shop. "Usually people come in and say 'Oh, Russian stuff,' and buy things. But people don't care anything about buying. They don't think about buying. They're more grumpy."

The changed mood, and a drop in cruise-ship passengers, cost Juneau nearly $2.5 million in lost revenues from tourists, said John Mazor, president of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau. The violence of Sept. 11 sent ripples through more than tour shops; it has affected other retail outlets as well.

"There was a dramatic drop-off in business across the board that week," said Ann House, president of the Downtown Business Association. "But even before that I wouldn't say tourism was up this year. The merchants were making enough to sustain themselves. ... Some will stay. Some won't. It's up to the individual store."

Mazor said four ships canceled at least a day of their scheduled trips. These included Carnival Cruises' Carnival Spirit, Holland America's Westerdam, Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Wind and Celebrity's Infinity. The cancellations meant 7,412 fewer tourists on the streets of Juneau.

Mazor said one of the results of the violent acts was a decrease in the number of cruise ship passengers even after cruise itineraries returned to normal. He said most ships were running only 60 to 80 percent full. Hotel occupancy also went down 10 to 15 percent following the attacks.

Sales didn't return to normal in the final days of the cruise ship season, which ends as the Norwegian Sky leaves town at midnight tonight.

A variety of merchants felt the change, said Felipe Ogoy, owner of Felipe's Teriyaki, a small food stand downtown.

"The cruise ships canceled and everything slowed down," he said. "I lost customers because merchants started cutting down on staff. Most of my customers are the people who work in neighboring businesses."

Lois Bates, owner of Focal Point, a New Age card and gift store, also was affected.

"Most of my customers work on the cruise ships and when it all happened they weren't even allowed off the ships," she said. "I think people were really sticking close to home that day and not really wanting to be around people or having to be out and conversing with people. There was definitely a sense of mourning."

Mazor said it's too soon to say what will happen with the bigger tourism picture. Though the industry projected 680,000 tourists through Juneau this year, he said the totals may be closer to last year's 640,000. Tourism totals will not be released until mid-October.

But Mazor said some tourism is on the decline regardless of the attacks. He said the independent travel industry, which has shown a steady decline in the last few years, took a particularly hard hit this summer.

The Alaska Marine Highway system carries 25 percent of the estimated 100,000 independent tourists staying in Juneau. The ferry Columbia was tied up in a shipyard for repairs much of the summer, which Mazor said had a significant affect on travel because the other ferries' schedules had to be altered.

House from the Downtown Business Association said the decline overall in tourism had a significant impact on downtown businesses and has many causes.

"Certainly the economy had a lot to do with it and a lack of advertisement in Juneau and encouragement to do business downtown," she said.

Mazor said a bright note for the tour industry is that domestic and educational travel could increase. The convention and visitors bureau has noticed more inquiries about educational travel, he said. Schools and tour groups that often look overseas for educational opportunities are beginning to consider Alaska, he said.

Some merchants aren't necessarily concerned about the short-term decline in tourism. Pat Pennoyer, owner of the graphic design and Internet computer-use outlet Netspectations said he keeps a good clientele of locals.

"A segment of my Internet business will come to an end but I do design Web pages, general graphics, T-shirts," he said. "In the winter more Juneau residents come back downtown. It's interesting. The residents kind of get their town back in a way and they help keep us going."

House seems to be remaining optimistic that business owners will choose to stay in town and locals will buy what they have to offer.

"We're all hoping a lot (of businesses) stay around," House said. "If only to keep the lights on downtown."


Melanie Plenda can be reached at

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