May 24, 2012 | Vol. 42, No. 21

Pay phones needed, shop owners say

Joseph Banks, a 20-year-old student at Haines’ wilderness leadership school, stopped a news reporter on Main Street on an evening last week and asked where he could find a pay phone.

According to downtown business owners, Banks’ request is not a rare one from visitors. Alaska Power and Telephone removed the last pay phones from Haines in spring 2011, but that hasn’t stopped people from asking for them.

Cell phone service is limited to the downtown core and Klukwan. A courtesy phone inside the visitor’s center is available during business hours.

Shirley Bretthauer said customers at her RV park on Main Street have asked about pay phones. “Some people come looking for them because not everybody has a cell phone.” Others, she said, have forgotten their cell phone chargers.

“They’ve got pay phones in Skagway. Why can’t they have at least one in front of the phone company? We could probably stand to have two on cruise ship days.”

Restaurant and gift shop owner Dot Shackford said she also gets requests to use her phone, including from visitors looking to book lodging for the night. Shackford said she tries to explain that the phone at her store is for her business, and that she uses it for credit card billings. “I say no because our credit card (processing) is associated with it. We only have one line.”

Like Bretthauer, Shackford said the town should have at least one public pay phone she could direct customers to. “People have to have a phone. Not everyone has a cell phone,” she said.

Storekeeper and longtime resident Bev Jones said even when there were pay phones at Second and Main, visitors would sometimes stand on the sidewalk in front of her store, not knowing where to find them. Others, particularly ship’s crew, have difficulty with English which makes finding a phone even more difficult for them, she said.

“We try to send them to the visitor’s center (but) it becomes an issue. If it becomes too much of an issue, we let them use our phone. If we don’t do at least that, what kind of town are we?”

Jones said she empathizes with visitors needing to make a call. Her own cell phone has died in Juneau when there wasn’t a pay phone nearby. “Fortunately, it wasn’t an emergency.”

On another occasion a few years ago, Jones couldn’t find a home on Mosquito Lake Road at night and was able to call from a pay phone that was at a general store there. “Here you are. It’s 8:30 or nine o’clock at night. What do you do? You don’t go knocking on somebody’s door.”

Banks, the 20-year-old visitor, lives in Centreville, Va., about an hour south of Washington, D.C. He was trying to reach a store owner after business hours. There are still pay phones in his hometown of 9,000, Banks said.

“I thought that there would be pay phones around here. Maybe if you had one or two, that would help out a lot. Some people may not have cell phones or have service up here. If you don’t know, or if you don’t have coverage, you can always rely on a pay phone,” Banks said.