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A downtown historic district fire 100 years ago made way for one of Juneau’s most enduring downtown businesses: the Ben Franklin store.
After the Heidelberg Saloon on Front Street burned in 1923, grocer Gunnar Blomgren bought the property and built a one-story concrete structure measuring 50 feet of sidewalk frontage by 100 feet for $36,000.
Blomgren opened the Sanitary Grocery after moving his market business from Seward Street to Front Street. In 1931, for $20,000, Blomgren added a second story. The building facade looks the same today.
For more than 50 years, the Wiley family has owned the Ben Franklin store in the Blomgren Building on Front Street. The legacy continues as third generation Meagan Wiley Bishop works with her dad, Mike Wiley, on the day-to-day operation of the variety store that sells home products like kitchenware and sewing notions, as well as souvenirs, picture framing elements, plus aerial drones and radio controlled airplanes.
Mike’s parents, Fred and Sally Wiley — who still live in Juneau — purchased the store in 1972 from Bud Nance, who coached them on store operations and provided a rustic cabin at Indian Cove for the couple to raise their four children. Fred had managed a Woolworth’s store in Anchorage. When the company wanted to relocate him to California, he resigned and instead moved his family to Juneau to take over the Ben Franklin store.
William “Bud” Nance had a long history in Juneau, too. He started the S and N Five and Ten Cent Store with his partner, Robert Stoft in 1937.
Like many businesses in Juneau, the Wileys are rooted in the community.
Ben Franklin is a stable longtime presence in the Downtown Historic District. For many reasons, downtown Juneau is fortunate to survive and thrive amid changing economic conditions.
The City and Borough of Juneau designated several blocks of the commercial area as Juneau’s Downtown Historic District with the approval of the National Register of Historic Places.
• Laurie Craig is an artist, advocate and avid researcher of Juneau’s historical treasures. Rooted in Community is a series of short articles, published in the Empire on the third weekend of each month, focusing on unique buildings in Juneau’s Downtown Historic District and the present-day businesses (and people) that occupy them. This work is supported by the Downtown Business Association.
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