Heidi Zemach for SCN -
John and Julie Staser, the owners of Mountain View Sports Center in Anchorage, have leased two of the stores in the historic Seward Brown & Hawkins building for the next three years, and will open a clothing, fishing, hunting and camping store there April 10. They also run a store called Adventure Apparel in the Captain Cook Hotel building, and a third store in the seaside California town of Carmel. The three-year lease, will enable them to test the waters here in Seward, they say but they also have an option to buy the place.
For the time being, Iris and Hugh Darling, the Brown & Hawkins’ building owners, will continue to operate “Sweet Darlings,” the building’s third and most lucrative of all three of stores, with its longtime family recipes of home-made fudge, Gelato ice cream, and chocolates. They will apprentice the Stasers in what it takes to run that rather specialized enterprise, Darling said. The Stasers have expressed an interest in leasing that store as well, but want to take things one step at a time, and will focus their efforts in the beginning on the outdoorsy clothing and supplies side, and on the gift-shop side.
Darling, who has run the store the heart of downtown Seward for the past 23 years, along with her husband Hugh, is delighted, and said the new owners and their business would be a “really good fit for Seward.”
The Stasers are a longtime Alaskan family, experienced in the retail business, she said. Even the businesses’ name, “Mountain View,” has an appropriate ring for the area. The store will carry many of the same high-quality clothing lines as she carried, and perhaps some gifts geared for tourists, they’re not yet sure what those would be, but also it will feature things that the store did not have such as fishing and hunting gear, outdoor books and camping equipment.
The Anchorage store, at 3838 Old Seward Highway, has been in business since 1961. The Stasers support “Made in USA,” and in all of their stores, and try to support the local economy by spending all overhead in Alaska and buying locally-made products and using local services when possible, said John Staser. He promised to try to hire local residents first as their core group if possible, and to offer both full-time and part-time positions in the store. The owners also hope to be able to keep the store open year-round, if there are enough customers to make that possible, and to do all they can to meet the needs of the local residents as well.
The Stasers will try to address local desires by adding typical Alaska rugged gear, such as Carhartts and a variety of boots, which were appreciated by Brown & Hawkins customers, to their list of suppliers. Their goal also will be to work to complement business throughout town by providing certain items that aren’t available at other stores in town, and they hope to become an asset to the whole local business community, rather than just competition-even if some of the lines they sell may be the same.
Having a very large store located in Anchorage, just two or three hours drive away from Seward, will enable them to special order any item they sell at their other businesses, and truck it over at no additional cost to the consumer, Staser said. So if a customer wants something like a dip-net, or a certain type of swim wear or camping gear, it should arrive with the next weekly shipment.
Customers can expect stocked items to change quite a bit at first, and the stock to gradually expand over the next few months until they reach full strength as they learn by trial and error what items are in greater demand and sell well, and what items don’t.
The closure of the 9,000 square-foot historic store following last summer’s tourist season was a great disappointment to many local residents and visitors to Seward. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is at least as old as Seward is, and like Seward, is older than Anchorage. The Hawkins’ family business had been open in Seward since 1900 in some form or another. Hugh’s grandmother Emma Jean Hay, a young widow, moved to Seward from Iowa with her infant son in 1907, and opened Emma Jean’s Palace of Sweets. She later married the banker and merchant T.W. Hawkins, and quit the shop to devote her time to being a housewife and mother. The Brown and Hawkins Store, which actually opened in 1903, in anticipation of the coming railroad terminus, is the oldest continually operated business in Seward as well as the oldest store in Alaska under the same ownership. T. W. Hawkins’ son James Hawkins took it over from his father and then passed it to his daughter Virginia Darling (Hawkins.) Virginia’s son Hugh Darling and his wife Iris acquired the family business in 1990, while in Seward temporarily visiting and helping to care for Hugh’s mother Virginia (Hawkins) Darling, who was ill.
All six of the couple’s grandchildren have worked in the business at various times, and their son Don has helped out making the Gelato for the past three years. But the kids don’t want to inherit it, and would be really happy to see it passed out of the family before they die, Darling said.