By Holly Johnson and Laura Martinson
As the snow is falling and our holiday lights are going up, we are reflecting on the potential this season brings for our community to shine. The Washington Post recently ran an article about what it will take for New York City to come back economically and socially from COVID 19. Broadway and Times Square are huge components of New York’s economy, and are “profoundly intertwined with other amenities, like restaurants and hotels, being back in full swing.” While travelers are essential for full recovery, a New York destination marketing executive was quoted: “We really need New Yorkers to help us rebuild the city.”
Many Juneau residents have experienced New York’s theater and entertainment firsthand. One of the most visited attractions in the world, Times Square, is a major intersection of arts, entertainment, retail and hospitality businesses for locals and visitors alike. Patrons contribute billions of dollars to the economy through theater and musical tickets, hotel rooms, dining, and shopping. What comparisons can we find between our sweet town to NYC?
Our local businesses rely on Juneauites as well as visitors of all kinds: independent travelers, legislators, conference attendees, regional residents and cruise passengers. Think of Juneau’s local businesses downtown (from museums and restaurants to shops, and cultural experiences), as very similar to Broadway’s 41 theatres and the surrounding attractions. Each provides a unique local and visitor experience and helps spur spending in other industries.
And just like Times Square employs scores of actors, directors, designers, stage managers, choreographers, lighting and sound crews, stage hands, ticket-takers and ushers, Juneau’s diverse downtown economy employs hundreds of locals as artists, culinary entrepreneurs, accountants, baristas, hoteliers, retail clerks, wait staff, bartenders and more. All of these jobs are important.
Our challenges are similar. The National Endowment for the Arts is distributing CARES funding to arts organizations across the country to help them survive. Juneau’s visitor and hospitality businesses have tapped into local, state, and federal recovery assistance wherever possible. Yet, it is only a small patch. Employers are forced to restructure and hang on until we can welcome back our visitors on cruise ships, planes and ferries.
No matter where you fit into the local economy, the confidence that your public leaders are working to restore your livelihood is paramount. Since the onset of the pandemic our Assembly has risen to meet the challenges our community has faced, and supported local businesses when we needed it most. Our vibrant downtown core is cherished by locals, sustained by visitors and with the loss of our visitor industry this year, we need local support now more than ever. Whether you welcome Juneau’s cruise visitors or not, locals certainly appreciate the local businesses reliant on them and what that means to the fabric of our economy. Without visitors so many of the businesses we love wouldn’t survive. You certainly don’t have to be a “tourism business” to have tourism provide a core of your bottom line. Countless beloved local business downtown depend on visitors to sustain them so they may also serve locals. This year has made it devastatingly apparent how much of an impact visitor spending has on our treasured downtown district.
Like New York City, we need residents to act now and support the many restaurants, shops, and arts organizations in our downtown neighborhoods. The loss of Juneau Public Market and Gallery Walk symbolizes the losses in our “Times Square.” This holiday season downtown businesses are providing safe and creative ways to shop, dine and celebrate local. We encourage everyone to show their love of our community and our neighbors, and find the safest way to support these local businesses. We ask Assembly members to be an example by dining out (or taking out) and starting your holiday shopping early and with local businesses, and be loud about it across all media platforms. Perhaps this is an opportunity for a “look local” campaign with our municipal leaders at the helm. With all of us working together (while staying far apart), we can make this holiday season in Juneau a joyous one to remember.
• Holly Johnson is a shareholder and president of Wings Airways, which was founded in 1982; and co-owner and vice president of Bear Creek Outfitters, which was founded in 1995. Laura Martinson is a lifelong Juneauite and owner of Caribou Crossings, which was founded in 1998. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a letter to the editor or My Turn.