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Downtown Ketchikan in the 50s & 60s
By Doug Barry


August 18, 2005

Growing up on upper Front Street where my backyard overlooked the Newtown portal of the tunnel and my grandparent's overlooked the downtown side, I have lots of memories of what downtown used to look like. I remember a Piggly Wiggly grocery store on Front next to the Gilmore and a Wingren's grocery store two doors away. Across the street was the Sourdough, of course, and Pool's shoe store, the Alaska Meat Company run by Mr. Zerbetz, that is before that side got torched by the infamous Bill Mitchell. The waterfront side of Front south of Dock Street had Ryus Drugs, Stan's Music Shop and some other businesses, that is before Bill Mitchell torched that section as well.

Julie's was Heckman's "department store", Downtown Drugstore was Race Downtown Drug (no, Vassa wasn't working there quite yet), Tongass also had a grocery store, the Revilla Theatre had the better movies even though it was smaller and a firetrap, and Pruell's, Tom Sawyer's, Alaska Specialties and the Trading Post pretty much had the corner on the curios market, but probably struggled a bit in those days. With the fires and the development in the Westend it was inevitable that the number of businesses closed up or moved, and with the burgeoning cruise ship influx that started 35 years ago (?), it was also inevitable that downtown would be the most logical place to snag tourists coming and going.

I agree with my ol' radio pal Neil Gray that it's a shame all those downtown souvenir businesses haven't remained indigenous to Alaska and Ketchikan; that would add value to the visitors' experience. But apparently there was a lot more money to be made from the captive cruisers than expected, so in came them merchants from Venice or the Caribbean or wherever. Such is the double-edged sword of free enterprise...sigh. One of those shops must have a crystal ball for sale (probably not made in America much less Alaska).

Wonder what the future has in "store".

Doug Barry
Sammamish. WA - USA




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