Owner of Kimball's Dry Goods dies

Posted: Tuesday, February 05, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The owner of the oldest continuously operating business in Anchorage has died.

Decema Kimball Andresen Slawson died Monday. She was 95.

Family members say Slawson got the flu a few days ago but, prior to that, she could be found working at Kimball's Dry Goods -- the store her parents opened in 1915.

''She figured she'd die with her boots on, and she just about did,'' said her son, Carl Andresen.

Slawson's parents, Irving and Della Kimball, bought the property at Fifth Avenue and E Street in downtown Anchorage for $500, according to ''Patterns of the Past: An Inventory of Anchorage's Historic Resources.''

Now it is the only private land and structure on a square block of city park.

Decema Slawson owned Kimball's since her mother died in 1958.

Slawson was born in Seward in 1906. She was married twice and had two children. Her son Alfred Kimball Andresen died in 1994.

Friends described her as a tough, capable woman with a trove of knowledge about Alaska life and Anchorage history.

''I'd tell her I went caribou hunting, and she'd say, Where?' '' said Mike Bonito, who worked next door to Slawson. ''I'd tell her. She'd say, I got one there 40 years ago.'

''She was a pilot. A hunter. She'd heard everything before,'' he said.

Bonito, with his two sisters, owns the Kobuk Coffee Co., which occupies one side of the Kimball Building. On the other side, Slawson sold fabrics and sewing notions. The original store, operated by her parents, sold coffee, salted fish, beans, tobacco, guns and other goods necessary for survival.

Living quarters wrap around both stores in the back of the building, and that's where Slawson lived most of her life.

Store visitors say even though she'd changed the merchandise to adapt to a new age, going into Kimball's was still a trip back in time.

''I think it's the passing of an era,'' Bonito said.

Carl Andresen said Kimball's store will probably reopen in a few days.

The sturdy, boxy structure survived two major earthquakes -- in 1932 and 1964 -- and a political firestorm in the 1980s, when some people wanted to raze the entire block, including Kimball's, to create Town Square.

At one point, the Anchorage Assembly deadlocked 5-5 on whether to condemn the businesses on the block, according to news accounts. Slawson argued persuasively for the historical value of the Kimball Building, say people who were there.

''Decema was not about to give up her building there,'' said Katharine Crittenden, who also fought to preserve historical buildings in Anchorage and knew Slawson well.

''Her business had stayed right in that spot from the very, very beginning of Anchorage. That's why that little house is there,'' Crittenden said. ''She was an opinionated and strong woman who knew her roots and was proud of them.''

In 1984 Anchorage voters approved an amendment to the city charter that protects the Kimball Building because of its historic status.

Funeral arrangements are pending at Evergreen Memorial Chapel.

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