When my parents came to Alaska in the 1970s, like the many people before them, they came searching for work. Oil was discovered on the North Slope in 1968. The work opportunities were plentiful for people who did not mind extreme weather. After pipeline work finished, my parents went looking for their next job opportunity. They settled in Juneau, but they were unsure of what they wanted to do.
It was not until the summer of 1979 that my grandma convinced my parents to start a fudge shop, like the ones they had back in my dad’s hometown of Charlevoix, Michigan. At first, they were hesitant to the idea, but after a little prodding, my grandma convinced them that Juneau would be the perfect location. And so, with my great-uncle and grandparent’s help, the Alaskan Fudge Company was born. We opened our doors in May of 1980.
At first, business was slow. In the early years, it was my parents working seven days a week with one or two full-time employees and a couple part time employees helping them get through the summer. As cruise ship travel increased so did business. The City of Juneau and the many small businesses benefited directly from the cruise ships coming into port. More ships meant more jobs and more revenue for the city.
While in high school, almost everyone I knew worked for a summer tourist-related business, whether it be retail, whale watching, tour guides, etc. In any given summer, the Fudge Company would hire anywhere from 30 to 40 young people for our two locations. For many of these kids, it was their first job and a great chance to learn important work skills that they carried with them throughout their careers. Some of these kids worked for us for many years and others just a summer or two. We even had employees meet their significant others while working for us. Most of these employees have made Juneau their home and have raised their families here, which benefits the community in multiple ways.
At the beginning of 2020, my parents were looking forward to retiring and moving on to the next phase of their life. Looking forward to spending more time with their 11 grandchildren, all fortunate enough to also be living here in Juneau. I was looking forward to continuing the family business, along with Phil and Jason, for another 40 years and hopefully passing it on to our children one day. After two years of very little cruise activity, we learned a hard lesson. Independent travelers cannot compensate for what cruise ship travelers bring, forcing us to reduce our infrastructure. The future of our business in Juneau is in doubt. I never thought I would have to think of my future without the Alaska Fudge Co., but that is where we are after the last year we just had.
If these initiatives pass, what kind of future are we leaving for our children? Will Juneau be an affordable place for them to live and raise a family of their own?
For anyone thinking of signing the initiatives, these questions should be thought about and answered before you sign. I recommend reaching out to anyone who runs a small business and talk with them about how these initiatives impact them. Take a walk downtown and think of what it would look like with even less businesses being open.
• Scott Bergmann has lived in Juneau his whole life. His parents started the Alaskan Fudge Company in the Spring of 1980 and has been open yearlong ever since. He and his wife Chantil have three young children, Tanner 3, Mia 4, Ayden 10.