For over 50 years, travelers heading south out of Anchorage towards the Kenai Peninsula have passed a road sign advertising t-shirts, underwear, and other “Hardcore Alaskan Gifts.” Diamond Jim’s Liquor Store is gone, but the sign that remains was the subject of a years-long standoff involving the Federal Highway Administration, the Alaska Department of Transportation, three Alaskan elected officials, and small business owner Mary Lou Redmond.
After a devastating earthquake struck Portage, Alaska in 1964, Diamond Jim’s Liquor Store relocated to a spot along the Seward Highway. The land chosen for the new location had passed into the Bureau of Land Management’s control in 1917, at which time the law required 50 feet of open space on either side of the road. When Diamond Jim’s sign went up, it toed the line, but a new law in 1954 expanded the right of way to 150 feet from the centerline. This put Diamond Jim’s out of compliance, but Alaskan Governor Egan promised owner Mary Lou Redmond that the sign could stay.
The sign flew under the radar for years, but in 2004, federal funding for highway improvements began to flow into Alaska and the government took notice. Not only was the sign in violation of federal highway requirements, it also ran afoul of a 1998 voter-approved initiative to remove all commercial advertisements from the sides of highways.
In 2006, the Alaskan Department of Transportation (DOT) received a letter from the Federal Highway Administration informing them that the right of way along the Seward Highway was not clear of encroachments and that the offending business signs had to be moved. Thirty businesses worked with the DOT and eventually moved their signs (some within hours of the deadline), but Diamond Jim’s held out. The federal government gave the state a choice: move the sign, or reimburse the 20 million dollars spent on highways so far. Redmond refused and is quoted as saying “I’ll chain myself to the sign if I have to.”
Eventually, word of the standoff had reached the office of Alaskan State Representative Mike Hawker. He proposed several compromises, none of which came to fruition, and at one point offered to chain himself to the sign alongside Redmond. A deadline for the forcible removal of the sign was set for 2017, but in 2016 Alaska State Senator Mark Begigh got involved, and after some negotiations on behalf of Redmond, the sign was granted a two-year stay of execution. Redmond took the opportunity to repaint the sign and fix some burned-out bulbs.
While the deadline has come and gone, and Diamond Jim’s has since closed, as of summer 2023 the sign still remains, a testament to the independent Alaskan spirit.