An extant asset
After a freezing, damp and snowy visit to Juneau, my next stop was Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage. After a stunningly beautiful flight over the snow-covered peaks of the Chugach Mountains of southern Alaska, we descended over the broken ice of Cook Inlet and under bright blue skies. Just like that, I found myself for the first time in the largest metropolis of the Last Frontier.
I just so happened to be visiting during the weekend of the Fur Rendezvous Festival, known colloquially as Furrondy. Essentially, Furrondy is a large street fair smack dab in the center of downtown during the middle of the cold dark winter. There were prize booths and fair food vendors as well as carnival rides, and I enjoyed seeing crowds and bright lights on the streets when they would otherwise be fairly empty. But after taking in the sights, it was time to turn to my attention to my planned retail destination- the Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall.
In a city that experiences more of the wrath of winter than most anywhere in the country, there are several malls in Anchorage to keep its citizens warm and cozy while contributing to the economy. There is the Mall at Sears, now called Midtown Mall, a small facility which used to house the city’s only, you guessed it, Sears. There is also the Dimond Center with its ice-skating rink and absence of a full-line traditional department store anchor. Then there is The Mall at Northway, which unfortunately closed in 2020. But the large monolith on Fifth Avenue reigns supreme.
Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall’s position is anomalous compared to other markets in that, as an urban, vertical mall, it dominates the retail sector over its more suburban peers. It was anchored at the time by Nordstrom and JCPenney and boasts four levels and 447,000 square feet of space under a quite attractive central atrium.
It was Saturday night, so the mall was quite lively especially with Furrondy only a couple of blocks away. It had all of your first-tier mall basics like The Apple Store, Sephora and Eddie Bauer but also hosted a marketplace for local merchants to sell their wares on the bottom level. I loved browsing the native Alaskan artwork and crafts. I hope that it was a permanent installation and wasn’t just set up for that weekend’s festivities.
I got a bite to eat in the fourth level food court, which was filled with a diverse array of culinary styles, but it was soon time to go. It was my birthday, dammit, and I was ready to trudge my way through the snow to the northern most gay bar in the US. At the time, cell phone data for any carrier besides AT&T was pretty much non-existent, so as the Lyft app was useless and I didn’t have the number of any cab companies, I bid farewell to Anchorage Fifth Avenue mall before making the long, and somewhat treacherous, walk down Fourth Avenue.
It was a blast. At least what I remember of it was. I LOVE Anchorage. And though I haven’t made my way back since, I definitely plan on going again. I think that everyone should. No, you won’t run into any Yetis or moose (at least not in the city) but, just like Juneau, everywhere you look there seemed to be a stuffed grizzly or Kodiak brown bear.
Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall was opened in 1987 by its original developers, The Rainier Fund and JCPenney. Unfortunately, it opened during an economic downturn in Alaska caused by the eighties oil crisis which left the mall only a quarter leased for its first few years. Simon later took over the mall in the mid-nineties and has held it in their portfolio since. Although the JCPenney continues to hang on, Nordstrom closed its doors in 2019. That was too bad; even for a company known for their friendly staff, the people at this location were exceptionally great.
I planned on visiting Dimond later the next day, but hangover maintenance took precedence. I stayed in my hotel room that morning and watched the sun circle us at its sunken position in the sky before it was time to make my way to the airport for the relatively short flight home. I guess that missing Dimond was for the best; it gives me another reason to hurry back. That and another trip to The Raven.