by Chuck Freymueller
I came to Juneau in December 1949, as my father was stationed in Juneau with the Coast Guard. Shortly after my arrival, I was able to find a job at the 20th Century Market. It was a place where you needed to have a strong work ethic, or you became unemployed in short order. There was lots of work and not many breaks.
The 20th was one of the first cash and carry markets in Juneau, which meant lower prices for the customer, as charge accounts were eliminated. There were many grocery stores in those days and some that come to mind are Garnicks, Gastineau, Piggly Wiggly, Berts, Case Lot, California, George Bros., Behrends, Home, Thibodeaus and Cottage Food Store.
One of the first jobs was hauling freight from the dock. The weather was very cold and the Taku winds were howling. (We could count on Taku winds every winter then. They have diminished over the years.) As I didn’t have any warm clothes for that kind of weather, I went down to Fred Henning’s men’s store to get what I could afford, which wasn’t much. I was told to get everything I needed and to pay when I could, my first experience with Juneau merchants’ generosity and trust.
On one of my first trips to the dock to haul freight, I was putting boxes of bull meat (for hamburger) on a hand truck in order to push it up a ramp to the flat bed truck. Each box weighed close to 100 pounds, and I had six or seven boxes on the hand truck. Needless to say, the skinny kid of nineteen didn’t make it, much to the amusement of the dock folks and the longshoremen. Good thing I was a fast learner. It was interesting over time the rapport you made with the men working the docks, as I would find that our stuff would already be stacked and ready to go when I arrived.
Most all of the meat, produce and groceries came on Alaska Steamship, and you were always two weeks away from the time that items were ordered. So came the old saying if you were out of some items that “it was coming on the next boat.” Items like cottage cheese and outside milk all came frozen. Juneau Dairies milk was in bottles. Meat came in front and hind quarters, hung in the cooler, and then was broken down by the butchers - far cry from today. Produce was not like it is today in stores. A lot of it wasn’t of the best quality as the mentality of some Seattle suppliers in those days was “ship to Alaska, as they can’t send it back.” This changed over the years, when those folks realized that Alaska was an important marketplace.
In the early days, silver dollars were used rather than dollar bills. Needless to say, this weighed down purses and many a man had droopy trousers. Prior to the rush hours at noon and 5 p.m., counter checks from all the banks were placed on each register for folks that might not have theirs available. Again, there was a lot of trust at that time.
It seemed the 20th Century Market supplied so many entities. The fishing fleet purchased supplies prior to each trip, and at the end of the season, those from the villages would purchase groceries for the winter. Groceries were sent to the Federal Aviation Administration stations, Coast Guard and Dr. Maynard Miller supplied his Mendenhall Ice Cap study stations each summer. Dr. Miller was on the 1963 Mt. Everest Expedition, and I still have the envelope from his grocery order for that summer. It was hand carried by sherpas down the mountain and stamped with collector’s stamps. Thank you, Dr. Miller, for that piece of history. Charter boats replenished their supplies while in Juneau and quite a few carried famous personalities on board, whom we were able to chat with when we delivered. One time just before Thanksgiving, several outlying folks had ordered their turkeys. They were taken to Alaska Coastal Airlines, but they were never received. Needless to say, we had some very unhappy customers. The turkeys were again sent and received at the other end. A week or so later, there was quite an odor coming from a Grumman Goose’s forward hatch. Guess what? Buried deep in the hatch were the turkeys in all their “gory.”
Through the years, 20th Century Market was one of Juneau’s leading stores and prided itself in having the best meat in town. It was always amazing how so many customers passed through daily, and everyone knew almost all the folks in the area, not only those who shopped at the store.
As we all know, parking has always been a problem in downtown Juneau, and it continues today. Many of the small stores closed during the later years, as they could not compete with the-then-super markets. The major stores were 20th Century, Erwins, Foodland and Thibodeaus. Bert’s had become the first Foodland and moved to the Willoughby location, where lots of parking was provided. Erwins moved to the Valley (now Family Grocer), and it has obviously continued to do well, especially after being remodeled from wooden floors to tile and new cases in the meat department.
I left 20th in 1963, for a new adventure after having worked every job in the store, then finally as manager and part owner.
There are still many folks living here in Juneau who are products of the 20th Century work force. If kids shoplifted and were caught, they always had to work it off. Remember guys?!?! Who would have thought our old alma mater would become McDonalds?
There were two people who installed a strong work ethic and dedication to my job for which I will always be grateful. They are the late Bill Cope, owner of 20th and Foodland, and Herman (Smokey) Rosenberger, owner of the current Foodland Shopping Center.