By Suzan Thompson
August 29, 2007
There are valid economic reasons to support either side of this issue. Free enterprise assumes landlords should be able to rent to any legal business they choose. If they can get top dollar from somebody from out of town rather than accepting less rent from a local, why shouldn't they? They've got bills to pay like everybody else. It makes sense for the Chamber to support them in this.
On the other hand, if it were forty or fifty adult bookstores operating in town and bringing in seasonal revenue, the Chamber would be at the head of the pack trying to limit them, free enterprise or not, and they'd be right to do it. Such businesses would not be representative of our community, would not enhance the cultural, historical, and environmental assets of Alaska which most visitors come here to experience, and would do little to attract future visitors to Ketchikan.
It's the eventual economic impact of too many jewelry businesses on the visitor industry here as a whole which causes so many locals to support the initiative, even when they understand that there may be some valid reasons to defeat it. When passengers from the only ship in town on the day of the Blueberry Festival take time to stand in line so they can sign the petition, and express disappointment when they're turned away, that should tell us something. When a family of twenty on an anniversary cruise tells a local business owner that despite the beautiful scenery they will never take another cruise here because the sales pressure on board is so intense that they can't have a meal or watch a show without somebody hopping up trying to sell them diamonds, that they can't go to bed at night without first clearing the gem brochures off their pillows, and then they disembark to find a solid wall of jewelry stores lining the front streets of every port, that's a big red flag for every Ketchikan business which caters to tourists.
When the ports of Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, which used to have their own distinct and charming identities, engender so many complaints about their now-tacky sameness that, in the words of one disappointed visitor, "They could sail that ship out to sea, turn it around, and come right back to the same dock and we'd never know the difference," that's a visitor who isn't recommending an Alaskan cruise to anyone.
If in the next five years only ten percent of visitors each year are so put off by the non-Alaskan appearance of the three major port cities in Southeast that they not only do not return themselves, but discourage family and friends from coming here via cruise ship or otherwise, what will be the impact on the local economy? What if it's fifteen or twenty percent? How will that impact local retailers and tour operators?
The Visitors Bureau tries hard to market Ketchikan as a convention destination, but it's a tough sell when the downtown is largely boarded over seven months of the year. It's a tougher sell when Garrison Keillor, who has a vast audience, is on a cruise elsewhere in the world and is quoted in an Anchorage paper as saying, "We remember Alaska. Lots of jewelry stores with mountains in the background," and the reporter's comment is: "Be fair. That's only Ketchikan. There's also Anchorage---lots of t-shirt stores with mountains in the background."
Passenger dissatisfaction with the cruise and shopping experience is increasing and it's going to cost everyone if steps aren't taken soon to counteract it. There are local business owners doing their very best to maintain the real flavor of Alaska and make Ketchikan a stand-out Alaskan destination, not a northern replica of St. Thomas or St. Croix. It is not a question of racism, despite unsavory attempts to paint it as such. Perhaps the question to ask yourself on October 2 is, do you like what has happened to downtown Ketchikan and do you want to see even more of it?
Received August 28, 2007 - Published August 29, 2007
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