By Leigh Armstrong
A new group of business owners has come together as the Skagway Business Association to push the voices of local business owners on issues with the municipality.
The SBA, currently headed by Kristine Harder who owns Buckshot & Bobbypins, was started after retail businesses started talking to each other about sales during the tourism season. The last meeting on Sept. 8 attracted over 25 people, including borough assembly candidates, the mayor and representatives from White Pass & Yukon Route.
“We started OK in May, and then June happened and the scuttlebutt around town was why are we down,” Harder said at the SBA meeting.
In contrast, Mayor Andrew Cremata released sales tax numbers for the fiscal quarter ending in June that showed an 11 percent increase over 2018, the largest sales tax revenue increase over the past six years. However, the numbers don’t show a breakdown for retail versus tours, as Lea Maudlin, the borough’s tax clerk, is currently on medical leave.
“To answer another one of the questions presented at the meeting, hiring a temp to handle sensitive tax information would be inappropriate because confidentiality must be maintained. The rest of staff is simply too busy to do this work at the moment because this is the time of year for our audit,” Cremata said in an email chain to members of the SBA.
In discussing their drop in business, members Sept. 8 voiced concerns against the new WP&YR schedule. The new schedule staggers when people get off the train during the day, when previously most cruise ship passengers would get off all at once.
Nancy Corrington, an owner of multiple businesses in Skagway, said the differing numbers of people walking around town at different times makes it difficult to staff the shops. She said the town is hurting from the lack of a surge.
“If there isn’t a surge, people don’t go into shops and find what’s going on,” Corrington said.
An idea of herd mentality was brought up, as five people looking at a single item at once are more likely to buy than one person looking alone. Additionally, the SBA called out WP&YR for picking up and dropping off passengers directly at the ship. “Taking everybody from the ship up the mountain and right back to the ship is hurting business,” Corrington said.
An idea that the SBA brought up as a way to push business farther north on Broadway was an arch at the end of Seventh Avenue, that could act as a photo opportunity for tourists. An arch has been brought up in past, but was voted down by the borough assembly.
The SBA is also looking at lining up services for its members that it believes the chamber of commerce is not providing. “This body right here is a pretty strong statement that the chamber of commerce isn’t representing businesses,” Assemblymember Orion Hanson said at the meeting.
Cremata said in an interview Sept. 9 that he would like to see the chamber and the new SBA get together and talk. He has been working with the chamber in different ways to reach out for business owners, since municipal funding for the chamber is not guaranteed for the future.
The next SBA meeting is set for 7 p.m. Sunday at the theater on Second Avenue, next to the Alaska Liquor Store.