The aisles of J&J Deli and Asian Mart near downtown were packed for the last time.
Dozens of customers overflowed near the door and front of the store Monday afternoon, some with their shoulders hunched to make themselves smaller in hopes to allow more people in.
Each person was patiently waiting for their order, hoping when the owner of the store, Neil Doogan, shouted out the next ready order that it would be theirs.
For Neil, Monday would be the last time he would be shouting out those orders and the last time his wife, Alma, would be behind the counter hard at work making sandwich after sandwich. The deli sold out before the day was over, with Alma saying she likely made about 300 sandwiches.
Monday marked the deli’s closure after more than 40 years in Juneau, 13 of which were run by the Doogan family who purchased the deli from the original owners in 2010. Since opening in 1979 it has been a local favorite among nearby high school students, government employees and downtown workers, known best for its sandwiches and unique array of snacks.
“We couldn’t sandwiches out quick enough,” Neil said Wednesday, talking about the deli’s last day. He said despite the stress of the final day packed full of work, it was “odd” coming into the deli now closed and absent of its usual customers.
“I mean, we’re sort of thrown out of our comfort zone of what we were so used to doing for the last 13 years,” he said. “It’s gonna take a little bit of a change and getting used to everything.”
Word of the deli’s closure has been circulating for more than a year, as in recent years Alma has been suffering from a painful ailment affecting her hands, back and feet, hindering her ability to run the business comfortably. The deli was thought to shut down in August of last year when its lease was originally set to expire, but when the time came a deal was made to extend an additional year instead.
Neil and Alma said the closure now is to allow Alma the space and time to heal her body.
“I love what I do and I’m so proud — there’s a reason why I hung out this long — I wish I could do more but my body is holding this pain and I can’t do it anymore, but someday maybe, who knows,” Alma said Wednesday. “I am so thankful. I’m blessed. We’re blessed to have all the support from here in this community. Not only are they our customers, they are family.”
Neil said he feels honored to have been supported by not just the Juneau community, but from those who have traveled to the capital city from across Southeast Alaska and beyond.
“We had all the basketball teams during regions and Gold Medal, any function of the volleyball, the collegiate teams and Celebration,” he said. “Whoever was coming into town, they would stop by here and get sandwiches.”
Alma and Neil said one of their favorite parts of being located near schools in Juneau was watching the kids grow up, and see the different generations of customers flow in and out of the deli over the years.
“It wasn’t just one generation, sometimes it was their parents who came here or their grandparents,” he said, “We had multiple generations, year after year — it was quite unique actually.”
“For me, it’s the kids,” Alma added, saying they would be one of the things she’ll miss most. “They can go anywhere they want, but a lot of kids here, they love to come our way and I enjoy them, I really enjoy them. I have watched some of them beginning in elementary, middle school and high school, and some have kids already too.”
Neil said they plan to begin clearing out the store, first with a grocery sale on Saturday, and then a final clearance out of the business within the next month. The pair said it was too soon to say if they might open up a store again in Juneau, but regardless, they said they plan to remain in the Juneau community along with their three adult children.
“I love this community too much to leave,” Alma said.
The Saturday final grocery sale will take place during normal business hours, however, no sandwiches will be made.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807.