By Kirsten Swann
In Mountain View, revitalization marches forward and an Anchorage landmark has been reduced to rubble.
The half-century-old Brewster’s building was demolished on Feb. 10 to make way for future new construction. It was only a matter of time.
The brown cinderblock structure had deep roots in the neighborhood. Anchorage homesteader Charles H. Brewster opened his store in a log cabin in Muldoon in 1952, and moved the business to Mountain View in 1959, the year Alaska became a state. Brewster’s Clothing & Footwear occupied nearly 17,000 feet of retail space at the corner of North Bragaw Street and Mountain View Drive, and gained a loyal customer base over decades in business.
Rhoda Eldred, 58, remembers shopping there back in the ‘70s. She attended East High School and lived on North Lane Street and went to Brewster’s for the affordable, high-quality merchandise. Back then, the store was stocked with carefully displayed selections of jeans and boots and high-quality winter gear. Eldred bought thick socks and shirts for her father for Christmas. She loved the western-wear feel of the store.
“You could spend hours there,” she said.
If you went shopping at Brewster’s you wouldn’t have to go anywhere else. And it was always busy—at least during those early years. Eldred’s memories of the place are filled with customers both young and old. It was a family store, she said, a store for working people. Alaskans came from all over to buy Levis and Carhartts and collect Brewster’s stamps that you could redeem for free merchandise.
The last time Eldred went inside was more than a decade ago. Things had changed a lot since the retailer’s heyday. There were more clearance sales and fewer people, she recalled.
“It was just starting to empty out,” she said. “It was sort of sad.”
In 2005, faced with the rise of online retailers and big box stores, the company announced it would be going out of business. The Anchorage Assembly passed a resolution thanking the family for “50 years of keeping Alaskans warm and comfortable on the job.” Then Brewster’s closed its doors for the last time.
For a while, the building housed a Salvation Army thrift store. The community council talked of transforming it into an “artist’s location.” Nothing materialized.
Eventually, the property was purchased by Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA), an Anchorage-based nonprofit and Mountain View land developer. With the original Brewster’s building at the end of its useful life and a row of new duplexes popping up down the block, the housing authority decided to level the store and start from the ground up.
In August, CIHA Vice President of Project Management Mark Fineman announced the move to the Mountain View Community Council. The Brewster’s property sits in a prime location; a stone’s throw from a credit union, a grocery store, a school, a library, multiple bus stops and dozens of new homes. Fineman said the housing authority hoped the space could attract some kind of new commercial investment.
“It’s really just a blank canvas,” he said.
Community council members passed a resolution of support for the demolition. Some people called the old building an eyesore. Its time was up, they said. Maybe one day the space could house some kind of bus depot or mixed-use development.
For now, though, it will be an empty lot.
Fineman said CIHA explored the possibility of purchasing the adjacent Surf Laundry & Dry Cleaning—a building even older than Brewster’s—but it didn’t pencil out, so the laundromat remained while the clothing store came down around it.
Sezy Gerow-Hanson, CIHA’s director of public and resident relations, said the housing authority has no immediate plans to rebuild on the property, but will be very selective about the kind of new development it allows.
On Feb. 6, one of the building’s last days, people filed in and out, picking up secondhand furniture and other unused items sold in a final lot sale. The inside of the old store was dark and cold. Paint peeled from the ceiling. Plastic sheeting covered the doorways.
Piles of odds and ends dotted the mostly empty floor: A piano, a sewing machine on a desk, a shattered mirror, a dozen or so chairs arranged in straight rows. The bright, busy place of years past was nowhere to be seen. It was bittersweet.
“I think it’s going to be missed—at least among those of us who’ve lived here for a while,” said Niki Burrows, a longtime Mountain View resident.
While Burrows was never a regular Brewster’s customer, she said it was a familiar symbol for many Alaskans. For years and years, the parking lot was crowded and the family owned store was filled with life. No longer.
On Monday, construction crews put up a fence around the corner property. The next day, machinery ripped into the building and a long chapter in Anchorage history came to an end.
“I hate to see it torn down,” Burrows said. “I hate to see it go.”