Business, Featured, Food

Seward’s Small Business Saturday

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Dean Carl inside Sweet Darlings, a local Tugboat cook for Crowley out of Valdez, AK

By Kelley Lane for Seward City News –

Saturday, November 26th is Small Business Saturday in Seward and around the United States. The program was started in 2010 by American Express and they continue to promote the day as an opportunity to support our local economies. It’s estimated that 95 million shoppers across the United States shopped in support of their local businesses on Small Business Saturday 2015.  

On a chilly Friday afternoon, the pink of sunset already gleaming on the mountains at 3pm, we set out for a walk about town, to investigate a few local businesses and their plans for Small Business Saturday as well as the holiday shopping season. We structured our walk around three local businesses of varying natures and products: Ukanuzit, The Grazing Moose and Sweet Darlings.

Ukanuzit, a small local business whose mission is one of recycling donated goods into useful items for Sewardites
Ukanuzit, a small local business whose mission is one of recycling donated goods into useful items for Sewardites

Ukanuzit has a special place in many locals hearts, as a site for donating items no longer useful and buying an assortment of goods for low prices. I spoke with Michelle Blalock who was pricing and organizing men’s clothing. She explained how Ukanuzit came to be, a transitioning of the building from Western Auto into its current thrift store. The business was a joint venture of four partners: Shelley, Melissa, Brad and Michelle. When they took over the lease, the building came with auto parts and dish sets included, the start of their merchandise. The mission of the store is recycling. “I have to think of everything that went to the dump in that one year” [when Seward was without a thrift store] said Blalock. Blalock takes her mission of recycling seriously, regularly taking trailers of goods to Anchorage Salvation Army, and to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Very little gets thrown away. “My first job was at Salvation Army” said Blalock, “so I guess I’ve come full circle.”

Small Business Saturday for Ukanuzit will mean the debut of their Christmas decorations for the shopping and decorating season. They’ll be unpacking and displaying merchandise from their storage upstairs all evening so that tomorrow they’ll be ready for business. The holiday season also means that they are a drop off spot for “Coats for Kids,” a Rotary project. Blalock expects to see people in Ukanuzit doing their Christmas shopping in greater numbers during the next five weeks. Their regular business hours are Tuesday-Friday 10am-6pm and Saturday 10-4. But if the store is full of shoppers tomorrow afternoon, they’ll stay open later.

The Grazing Moose
The Grazing Moose

The next stop on our walking tour of downtown Seward was just down the block, The Grazing Moose at 312 Fifth Avenue. Joanie Merritt was there to warmly welcome us into her beautiful marketplace full of locally created artworks, like Katy Lee’s earrings, Cindy Capra’s butterfly and dragonfly cloth wings and Doug’s epidote and quartz pieces found on Prince of Wales Island. In the summers, the Grazing Moose is home to Thursday’s produce market, a public service that Joanie provides to Seward. She goes to Anchorage, fills her jeep with all the Arctic Organic produce & Fire Island bakery bread it can hold and then drives back to Seward to sell it to her fellow townsfolk.

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Joni, inside her "Grazing Moose" Holiday Market located at 312 5th Avenue
Joanie Merritt, inside her “Grazing Moose” Holiday Market located at 312 5th Avenue

In winter, Joanie maintains her market like atmosphere, with holiday baked goods and beautiful gifts. Most years, these holiday baked goods have been crafted by Anna of Wicked Sweets. This year Anna’s new baby will keep her from baking, but Joanie has plans for different equally decadent baked goods to be available through the Grazing Moose. Joanie is “grateful for community support” of her business, without which she says that she “couldn’t exist” The Grazing Moose closed in October and now has reopened for the remainder of the Holiday Season. Most of Joanie’s customers, especially this time of year, are local Sewardites; she is grateful for her loyal clientele and is glad to be a “local gathering place.”

The warm lights and delectable smells of Sweet Darlings drew us into their storefront dessert shop. Inside was the Reising family, including George who explained that he comes to Sweet Darlings “whenever he can.” He and his family had enjoyed their Thanksgiving meal a day later than usual, and after eating, had taken a walk along Seward’s waterfront, then came into Sweet Darlings for dessert with their kids and relative, Janet Klein, in town from Homer.

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Miles of Truffles

Also in Sweet Darlings was local Sewardite, Dean Carl, who works as a tugboat cook out of Valdez, AK, with a schedule of six weeks on, six weeks off. He had come to Sweet Darlings to purchase dark chocolate truffles for the woman who lives out in Dutch Harbor. “I’ve been courting this girl for six years.” He sends her these chocolates as well as his own homemade ginger cookies via the US Postal Service, something he’s been doing for years. Carl met his sweetheart, former Miss Native Alaska 1967 nearly 40 years ago, when he was out in Dutch Harbor working at a cannery. Carl has lived in Seward since 1992 and in Alaska since 1970.

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Krystal & Bruce Virkardt, Owners of Sweet Darlings on 4th Avenue

Sweet Darlings is owned and operated by Krystal and Bruce Virkardt, a local Seward couple. They married and took over the business from Hugh & Iris Darling in October of 2014, relying on Bruce’s 19 years of candy making and Krystal’s eye for decorating, arranging and managing the store front. They make all the products that they sell, including salt water taffy, candied corn and a dream assortment of truffles. They use Alaska Distillery products to make whiskey truffles and bourbon cherries, things that are tough to keep in stock due to high demand. Sweet Darlings will be open Wednesday-Saturday 11-6 and Sundays 11-5 through the end of December.

Tomorrow will be a lively day in Seward, as locals and visitors get out to celebrate Small Business Saturday. Join the fun by shopping locally at these and the many other businesses open throughout Seward.

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