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Staking retail claims in Juneau; increasing business activity and building consumer confidence are attracting new retail business to Juneau.

Bill Doss is keeping a promise he made to Juneau residents two and a half years ago when J.C. Penney Co. first opened a catalog store in the Capital City. Back then, Doss, who manages J.C. Penney's Anchorage store, said the company would be back with a retail store if there was enough support. In November, the giant retailing firm announced it would open a 38,000-square-foot store in a local shopping center.

J.C. Penney is the latest of several national chain stores to try the Juneau market. The past decade has seen the entry of Fred Meyer, Lamonts Apparel and Pay-n-save. Franchise restaurants, such as Mcdonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell and Domino's Pizza, also have gained a foothold here.

It's not surprising. Juneau's business climate is strong, stable and healthy, according to recent statistics from the Juneau Economic Development Council. The Capital City is recovering well from the economic downturn of the mid-1980s.

A "bellwether" selection of 39 businesses reported that sales in 1990 generally were up, according to the council's Economic Benchmark Report. Other findings included a rise in wages and increasing optimism among households about the local economy.

An even better sign for business was more spending locally by Juneau households. The analysis found 82 percent of those polled estimated they did a majority of their spending locally. That's up from 73 percent last year.

The study was conducted by the McDowell Group and Lloyd Robinson and Associates Inc. This is the fourth such survey of the Juneau area by the council. Callers reached 260 randomly selected households for questions during the months of May and June.

Most Juneau households said they were doing as well or better than a year ago. Unemployment went down and fewer main wage earners lost jobs in 1990, according to the poll.

People feel pretty comfortable," says Patrick Anderson, director of the University of Alaska Southeast's Alaska Economic Development Center. State spending levels have picked up, he notes.

Also, mining activity has boosted area employment and spending by mining firms. One new mine, the Greens Creek gold and silver mine on Admiralty Island, opened up, and others are being explored. Tourism is another important Juneau industry making gains.

Such positive economic indicators entice retailers. Anderson says, "Juneau has a high per capita income. There's a lot of disposable income. My guess is (companies) want to take advantage of that. There's little doubt that there's something good with the Juneau economy."

J.C. Penney plans to open its retail store in October, its third in the state. The second outlet is in Soldotna. The new store will be much smaller than its operation in Anchorage and will concentrate on clothing and home furnishings. It will be housed in the Mendenhall Mall, where Penney's catalog store is located.

"Two and a half years ago, we opened up the catalog store in the same mall to test the waters," Doss says. "At the grand opening, I said if we were successful, we would open up a retail store."

J.C. Penney recognized what some firms have been banking on for years: The hub of Juneau's shopping is Mendenhall Valley, about 10 miles north of downtown. "The valley's becoming more than just a suburb," says M'Iva Rickey of Crystal Clear Communications and a spokeswoman for the Mendenhall Mall. "A lot of government stuff has moved from downtown to out the road."

At the Mendenhall Mall, office space will be leased to federal workers displaced by asbestos abatement at the federal building downtown. A couple of other state offices are located at the nearby Jordan Creek Center, and the Alaska State Troopers detachment is also housed in the valley.

The area's other large retail center, the Nugget Mall, is also experiencing good times, says Sandy Eaton, the mall's marketing manager. The Nugget Mall's shops are anchored by Pay-N-Save at one end and Lamonts at the other.

Eaton feels the addition of the J.C. Penney store should only increase shopping in the valley. "They're more welcome than feared. Hopefully more business will be done here in Juneau," she says.

Juneau's downtown has been spared the fate of most city centers across the country. If it is not bursting at the seams, it is at least thriving, says Chris McQuitty, head of the Downtown Business Association.

Elsewhere, in cities across the country, much shopping has been sucked out to huge malls on the outskirts of cities. As shoppers abandon downtowns, stores are forced to relocate or close, further decaying the city center.

"Downtown Juneau is not an endangered species," McQuitty says. "The kind of business downtown has become more limited."

Businesses have banked on selling to tourists coming off cruise ships that dock downtown near Marine Park, to passengers of the Alaska Marine Highway ferries and to airline visitors. But downtown businesses also depend on the huge number of state workers that shop during lunch hours and on a resident population that still calls downtown home, McQuitty adds. The temporary relocation of federal workers may hurt downtown shops, but not significantly.

Even so, in the tough world of marketing, not all businesses make it. Juneau's Sizzler Family Restaurant is one of the largest to fold. Sizzler, which had been located in the Vintage Business Park, moved out last month, leaving an empty spot in the center that also houses state workers.

"Businesses open and close all the time in Juneau," McQuitty says. Where others fail, there always seems to be another entrepreneur willing to try something new. Caren Robinson, until recently an employee of former Gov. Steve Cowper, is seeking a Benetton clothing franchise.

Robinson, also a local assembly member, is to meet with Benetton executives to discuss the possibility of bringing the upscale clothing store to Southeast. Benetton has two stores in Anchorage.

Meanwhile, farther south, in Ketchikan, the owners of the Plaza Mall are reporting success. The mall is now 98 percent full, says Sitka grocer Lloyd Hames, whose company The Hames Group owns the mall.

Waldenbooks, which Hames says had to be convinced to locate in the mall, is now one of the top-selling Waldenbooks franchises in the nation. The McDonald's franchise is also a top seller, according to Hames.

Now, drawn by the Capital City's improving prospects, retailers in Juneau are gambling that they can tap similar veins of success.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Juneau, Alaska
Author:Miller, Dirk
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Previous Article:Pete Leathard.
Next Article:Governor Walter Hickel; how Alaska's new governor will address economic and business issues.

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