If you think the Mendenhall Mall is dead, you haven’t been there lately.
Three years ago, Mendenhall Mall — the 200,000-square-foot shopping center in the Mendenhall Valley — was at 21% occupancy. Sandra “Sandy” Brown, owner of Salon 2211 for 23 years (though it was Cher’s and Linda’s before that), jokes about spotting a tumbleweed down the mall’s main hallway. “Nobody was here,” she says in her well-known-to-clients Louisiana accent.
Well, nobody aside from her, L.A. Nails, Hidden Treasures Pull Tabs, Super Bear IGA of course, and a few others.
But also three years ago — May 7, 2020 — the keys were handed to Patsy Anderson-Dunn, daughter of the folks who built the mall in 1977, and her husband Kim Anderson. The COVID-19 pandemic was just ramping up, and the mall’s then-owner split the scene. She took it on, even though she already had a job (chief financial officer for a construction company). She also lives part-time in Sherwood, Oregon.
When Anderson-Dunn took her first walk through a mall her family hadn’t owned in 14 years, she says she came out the other end in tears. But a mantra was developed: “It’s overwhelming, but it’s not insurmountable.”
Immediate tasks included a floor replacement, fresh exterior paint and security. Then the business recruiting started. And let’s just say this: Occupancy is now at 98.5%.
How It mall started
The Mendenhall Mall was constructed in five sections from 1977 to 1991, all done primarily by now-81-year-old Reinhold Fluck, a master mason from Germany, and Cheryl Fluck, who had an accounting background. (Later, they became better known by family and loyal mall-goers as Opa and Nana.)
“They literally laid the block and break,” Anderson-Dunn says. “When you see plaster on the walls in there, it was done by my dad. The brick, done by my dad.”
But she had a hand in it, too. Literally. The Flucks had their daughter put a handprint in each corner of the fresh foundation, per expansion. In 1991, “I had to come home from college to put my hand prints in the final foundation,” Anderson-Dunn says. “That’s the way it was.”
Fluck migrated from Germany in the mid-1960s, first to San Jose, California, then Juneau. He became a mason in town and on a coffee break at Mike’s Place (now Island Pub on Douglas Island), he met Cheryl, his waitress and University of Washington student.
“The big joke around town is that my mom had a semester of college left to finish and she was done with her accounting degree,” Anderson-Dunn says. “And she came to Alaska from Seattle to earn money to be able to pay for her last term.”
The rest is history. The pair were eventually married at Mike’s Place.
The two started a business (one of many) called Rhinestone and Plastering, where, “Mom did the books and accounting and dad did masonry and ran the crews.” Together with partners — other families who were landowners and engineers — the Flucks got started on the Mendenhall Mall in 1977.
Deck the hall — singular
Despite being 81 years old, Reinhold Fluck is still involved — with decorating.
“You should see him,” says Anderson-Dunn. “He gets on this ladder and he scoots himself down and he pins these things up … Last year he needed 200 feet of garland.”
If you’re not familiar, the Mendenhall Mall gets a heavy coat of holiday decor by around mid-November It seems like every ceiling tile in the mall’s main drag has a paper bell, snowflake, or candy cane hanging from it. That or oversize ornaments. Or mini-Christmas trees.
Fluck does a lot of it, assisted by volunteer Sam Adams and others over the years It’s a spectacle enjoyed by many, because not only has the shopping center been increasing capacity, it also hosts weekly Makers’ Markets throughout December. Every weekend, the main hallway is packed with vendors selling candy, jewelry, photography, vintage finds, knitwear, beauty products, and more — all operating under what must be hundreds of hanging decor pieces.
Then, outside, atop the midpoint of the Mendenhall Mall sits a simple but tall, highly visible angel — resembling something like an angel cookie cutter trimmed with lights. “It’s not Christmas until the angel is up,” says Anderson-Dunn, recalling her mother’s seasonal catchphrase. “And she said that until this year, her last Christmas.”
But Anderson-Dunn’s favorite holiday is Halloween. Remember that desperate moment at the end of her first walk-through of the now-hers Mendenhall Mall? One montage scene later, she and many mall tenants hosted a blowout Halloween event that fall.
But her first Halloween as mall owner happened to be in October 2020. Still, they wanted to host a treat-or-treat and “trunk-or-treat” event, but as safely as possible. “My husband Kim and I crawled around the floor and marked every 6 feet,” she says. “Everybody signed in with their phone number. We spaced them 6 feet apart. Everybody had to have masks. We handed out candy with gloves.” And this being Southeast Alaska in October, the rain was coming in sideways on the folks in the parking lot. Still, it was a success. The husbands were sent to Costco for more candy.
Of course, other holidays get some play here, too. At Thanksgiving, expect hay stacks weighted down by harvest-themed scarecrows. At Easter, Valentine’s, you know what to look for. All is done by Opa, in addition to other tasks.
“He’s still working,” Anderson-Dunn says. “He has a list of projects for him, a list of projects for my husband.”
Mendenhall of fame
Everyone has a favorite era of Mendenhall Mall. And since the shopping hub of Juneau’s Mendenhall Vally has been around for nearly five decades, there have been some good ones.
The mall has hosted everything from a Sears (a recent closure) to the Alaska Department of Labor and the U.S. Coast Guard Regional Examination Center. The Mendenhall Valley Library moved out in 2015 after roughly 30 years in the center of the mall. Bullwinkle’s Pizza Parlor was in the mall, complete with full awning and outside entry, until it moved across the street (into what was until pretty recently a Blockbuster Video).
Gottschalks department store relocated from Nugget Mall and opened July 15, 2002, in the 36,400-square-foot space formerly occupied by J.C. Penney Co. Inc. Penney’s closed about 1998. Gottschalks closed in 2009. Nugget Alaskan Outfitter moved into the spot in September 2013.
Recent departures include Sew Bee It and Doug Chilton Designs. Then there was Udder Culture — a mom-and-pop frozen yogurt and faith-centered sandwich shop which was around for about 35 years and somewhat merged with Aurora Sweets in 2019. Neither are there now.
But a favorite tenant, and recurring memory of mall-goers, is the rollerskating rink — Skateland.
“The roller rink was a big one when I was growing up,” says David Cooper, owner of the 2022-establish Coop’s Collectibles in the mall annex area (and who actually went to high school with Anderson-Dunn). A common practice for him and many other kids in the 1980s was to get dropped off by parents for a couple hours of skating on the iconic red-and-white laminate floor.
“It was the place to go and the place to be,” says Anderson-Dunn.
The roller rink was in the spot that is now Rainforest Play Zone, and before that Sears, among many other businesses. This is in the center area of Mendenhall Mall, today occupied mostly by the Alaska Native-owned Redefine (formerly Mommy-N-Me) consignment shop operated by Jodi Wise of Hoonah.
“As a kid, I remember coming in and going to the skating rink,” she says. She had a cousin who lived nearby. So when she would visit Juneau, they’d walk to the mall to go skating. Wise also recalls the Penguin Classics furniture store, which also operated in that vicinity. “When I bought my first house, I bought furniture there,” she says.
Other bygone businesses include Wee Fishie Shop, Good Humor Balloons, Specs in the City, Gerry’s Barbering-Styling Shop, Henry’s Food and Spirits, and more than we have room to name here.
Multitudes of new shops, restaurants, and services have opened in Mendenhall Mall in three years. Among those already mentioned, there’s Gold Digger Filipino Restaurant, Regal Plant Designs, Southeast 3D Printing, Red Onion Spice & Tea Company, and the third location of Grumpy’s Delicatessen and My Wife’s Juice Bar — to name a few.
Lisa Ibias, owner of Alaska Dames (which has been in business since 1996 and was actually in the mall in 1997), relocated the high-end consignment boutique to Mendenhall Mall in 2021. She neighbors other end-entrance suites like Martha’s Flowers and Lupine Leather & Beads.
In 2022, the Mendenhall Mall annex was opened — or reopened — which is where the aforementioned Coop’s Collectibles is located, along with Encouraging Word Christian Books & Gifts, Capital City Judo Club, and Relaxation — a new spot to pick up bath bombs, homemade soaps and lip balms, and candles (when you smell it, you’re close).
And we haven’t even mentioned The Huddle, a professional coworking space, and other suites occupied by the State of Alaska, religious associations, and home-buying, medical, and therapy services. They’re all here, too.
Finally, since Google Maps is wildly out of date for this place, other current occupants include Asiana Gift & Convenience Store, Alaskan Outdoor Wearhouse, Raintree Quilting, Juneau Pizza and Little Hong Kong.
But notice descriptors like “locally owned” or “independently owned” have not been used so far. This is because, at Mendenhall Mall, it goes without saying.
“I’ve always liked this mall because it’s more of a community mall,” says Patrick Van Pool, owner of Sequence Board Shop. His first location was over by Valley Restaurant, and had another shop downtown, both since closed. But a friend worked at Mendenhall Mall and convinced him to open his skate shop there. He had a spot, closed it, then came back in 2021.
Van Pool remembers Udder Culture as a “staple sandwich shop” and Gottshacks, and hearing about how the original owners of the mall took over again in 2020. This is when he became interested in reopening his shop at Mendenhall. He also has good things to say about Patsy Anderson-Dunn.
“Her dad built the mall. And then she manages the mall. And she just was destined to fill it,” he says. “And she did. She did in less than a year.”
Other attributes include the businesses being women-owned (75 to 80% as Anderson-Dunn reports), owned by people of color, and, as emphasized above, locally owned.
“We’re all local,” Anderson-Dunn says. “The only things that aren’t local are Verizon and H&R Block, but they have local people working there.”
Finally, many businesses are family owned — which is extra apparent when there are energetic kids everywhere.
“It really has become a family-friendly area,” says Issie Kako. She owns Cerealsly Milky Ice Cream and Cereal Bar — a shop offering homemade ice cream made with nitrogen along with other inventive treats and alternative options. She was first convinced to open her ice cream shop by her young daughter, because, simply put, they love eating ice cream together.
And though Kako has recently closed her very pink ice cream shop at Mendenhall Mall to reopen downtown in the former Nana’s Attic spot, it’s clear she’ll fondly recall the family vibe from her first location.
“In a way, the mall has kind of come back full circle because it used to be very family-friendly,” she says.
Kako credits openings like Rainforest Play Zone and Bloom Children’s Art Studio in the main drag of Mendenhall Mall as the source for the shopping center’s return to a kid-friendly atmosphere. Those operations are making up for closures like Bullwinkle’s Pizza Parlor and the Mendenhall Valley Library. “When the library left, it became a very dead … ghost town,” she says.
Now, her daughter, who’s almost 9, is “considered one of the mall rats.” Kako says many of the women running businesses at Mendenhall Mall are moms, meaning there are many other children — or, again, mall rats — roaming around.
“Now it’s back to those little kids running up and down the halls,” she says. “Really, really nice to see.”
Jodi Wise, who again owns Redefine, has “quite the family affair” going on at her shop as well. Her husband works there, her sister-in-law does the bookkeeping, and, of course, both her kids work there.
Even a trusted customer puts out clothes on the floor while waiting for her items to be sorted at the consignment counter when they’re busy. “We can’t keep up with what Juneau brings in,” Wise says, “which is a great problem to have.”
Redefine was once across the street, but Wise wanted more security. They moved in two years and two months ago. “Patsy had some good plans. It was just a great fit for us,” Wise says.
The payoff for that decision came quickly.
“What we noticed immediately since we moved was the traffic,” Wise says. And the cause is clear: “There’s a reason to come to this mall.”