OPINION: Mixed feelings about a downtown closing

I was working remotely at a coffee shop the other day, just to change up my “office” surroundings. While I was working, I observed a situation unfold that hit close to come. A young barista tried to calmly ask an unruly woman to either lower her voice or leave. His attempts to deescalate the situation were met with scattered outbursts and a subsequent silent stare-down from her. My heart went out to both of them simultaneously. The young man was clearly not a mental health expert. He only seemed interested in making sure the café and other customers were safe. The lady was clearly in need of mental health help and was not having it. I have been on his side of things more times than I can count.

I worked at the Downtown Kaladi Brothers Coffee location for almost four years in my early twenties. I definitely have mixed feelings about it closing on Dec. 1. On the one hand, this place provided me with a family when I was too young and dumb to know how to make real friends as an adult. I have so many relationships that I would not otherwise have. I am grateful for that. On the other hand, I can’t recall the number of times I had my health or safety threatened by bodily fluids, threats or unexpected outbursts from those clearly in need of mental health help. This does not even include dealing with situations related to underlying addiction, alcoholism and sexual abuse.

I understand that some may feel like the Downtown KBC closing might seem like a societal failure on some level. Perhaps that’s true. However, you can only ask baristas to act as mental health outreach experts, hazardous waste disposal experts and drug abuse intervention consultants for so long. As one of the first places to open every day in downtown Anchorage, we inevitably had a wide range of clientele lined up around the block waiting to get into a warm, public, indoor space at 6 a.m. in the winter.

KBC always tried to make sure we had what we needed to stay safe in this particular location, but there is only so much they can do as well. I worked for KBC almost 10 years and never felt like they took my safety for granted. I applaud them for taking the safety of their staff into account and closing this location when they felt they could no longer provide a safe space. They were a wonderful company to work for. The owners and office folk truly try their best to take care of their people.

Besides the Downtown KBC, I worked at various stores in the 5th Avenue Mall and a few restaurant and bars. I was on the service side of customer service industry in Anchorage for something like 15-20 years. This is not a new problem. I can’t tell you the number of times I saw unfortunate or dangerous situations arise over those two decades at: my various jobs, the former downtown transit center (bus stop) and basically any public, indoor space in downtown Anchorage.

As someone who found themselves in the middle of more confrontations than I can count, I still don’t have the answers. All I can say is that my heart goes out to those on both sides of these situations.

Lisa McMahon is an Anchorage resident, environmental scientist and former barista.

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