In 1963, as the 100-year anniversary (Alaska was made a US Teritory in 1867) was approaching, a commission was formed to organize a celebration. As one of the events leading up to the celebration, the Alaska Centennial Commission sponsored a contest to come up with a centennial motto that would express the unique character of the State. In December the commission announced that they had selected Juneau newsman Richard Peter as the winner.
The Alaska Legislature officially adopted North to the Future as the official state motto in 1967 during the Alaska Purchase Centennial celebration.The winner Richard Peter is quoted, saying the motto:
"...is a reminder that beyond the horizon of urban clutter there is a Great Land beneath our flag that can provide a new tomorrow for this century's huddled masses yearning to be free."
The motto is meant to represent Alaska as a land of promise. And it did feel that way when I first came under its spell. But has that eloquent vision become mere rhetoric? In spite of the quote's 20th century reference I don't believe it was to expire on Y2K, yet Fairbanks now has its own Corpo-Junction metastasizing almost nightly right in front of our eyes at that dangerous crossroads of Free Enterprise Expressway and Livelihood Trail. And the direction it's going is making Squarebanks look like a ghost town. Oh well, that's progress for you. We've been conditioned to consider it a blessing (witness the camp-outs and mad rush on a multi-national corporation box store's opening day), so we amen and praise it's arrival, considering ourselves all quite lucky. Hallelujah! Welcome to The Lost Frontier.
For those that don't remember, or ones more fresh to the Northland, not long ago Fairbanks still felt like the wild frontier, and was thriving with small Mom and Pops and hard working individuals. Ever hear of Lindy's Grocery on Barnette? Talk about a frontier experience. He preferred you just give him your list and go away for awhile before you came back for your grub. With a hand written invoice clipped on, there it would be, all packed in boxes--canned butter, dehydrated eggs, onions and potatoes (5 varieties), Lot's of other dry things--everything needed for a long trapper's winter in the bush. How bout Sampson's before it was True-Value, when they still had all their big warehouses behind them--you could find anything in that store--and I mean anything--when is the last time you've seen a hand driven James™ Clothes Washer in this burg? Fairbanks was truly a great place to shop in those days.
For years a hold-out of the now "antiquated" Classic American Free Enterprise model, Fairbanks was fertile ground for getting into business even when I came up in '78, and so it remained for a few more years. Sure there were some National chains in town, i.e., Pennys, the Sears catalog store, etc. But they kept their place for the most part, allowing a vibrant free enterprise air to prevail. Both old establishments, like Wilbur Bros. Sheet Metal (the oldest continually run family business in Fairbanks), or newer entrepreneurs like David over at Gulliver's Books, and Dan of a few years earlier with Power and Transmission, Inc., could flourish. Granted there was quite a boom going on--the first barrel of crude had just oozed down the Pipeline and the State and its people were flush from the rush. Everywhere, new buildings sprouting up, old history going down. Ah, the progression of man--
The footprint getting larger, first it was local chains spreading out, with larger Alaska based and West Coast Corporations moving in next--does anybody remember Pace, or whatever it was called when it was first built, (after several incarnations Sam finally swallowed it up for his Club).
Needless to say, the infrastructure for controlling such growth got set into place rather quickly--the Government growing exponentially with the influx of money, people and power--inspectors, permits, more laws and regulations, the politicians catering to the evermore interested I-Corpo-Big-Boys instead of to the folks that elect them. And small business became harder to get into, and harder to survive as a going concern, with it getting more mean through the years--
And now the Grinch has finally arrived at the Junction. So it's time for We the People to speak--
How do you want to live?
Look, we maybe don't need the same products as in the past--but we still need to keep small business alive, at least if we want to keep what we all say we like about Alaska, or Fairbanks, or America for that matter. Do you know, at most only 15% of the money you spend in an I-Corp-Box-Store stays local, and that is provided their employees aren't dropping wages at the till, which they are. Why do you think there are discounts if you work there?
While at the same time at least 45% of each dollar stays local, if spent local. There are so many fine Individuals and families running some really fine old and newer enterprises in Fairbanks. Stores, Goods &Services, Restaurants, anything you need and I guarantee there is a local free enterprise business trying to compete with the corporate giants, some of those brave souls advertising on this site.
And they are great places where the staff and workers actually know the business of what they are involved in. They can truly answer your questions, and will remember your face if you've come in before. It's such a refreshing experience to do business with them, makes me feel like I'm part of something much larger, instead of as if I'm being consumed by a giant. So it's our choice--
We can have it either way, The Lost, or The Last--
And do consider this, merely having mostly undeveloped land around us does not a frontier make, it's the people, the way they live with that land and the ideals they exhibit towards that living that does. It's time to start speaking up about those ideals we say we hold dear. Let your dollars be your voice. Please shop locally first, it will decide what lifestyle we have in our future, it is the only way we can survive as a land of promise, the only we will remain free.
by W.J. Lynus O'Brien
08 September 2006