Here’s the thing: The family business

One thing that stands out when driving through the Lower 48 is seeing the big brand name stores on repeat. The towns seem mushed together and you wonder how you’ve seen five Targets and three Macy’s within a 20 minute drive. One after another, the same logos follow you to your destination. You can’t even walk through Seattle without tossing a pebble and hitting a Starbucks. The logos. They follow you.

Alaska doesn’t have that issue. It’s mostly built of small businesses, including locally owned franchises. Nothing really looks alike here. This is nice, because there is a lot of that small town feel and it keeps it real.

Our coffee shop girls don’t wear uniforms or bother to (mis)spell our names on a cup. They know your name, or at least know you by your regular order. Your local hair salon hairdressers usually knows your cut, color, and family. My parents even go to the same furniture store, because it’s just the one they’ve always gone to. Even with larger prices there is something about that one on one customer service that people appreciate.

For myself, I like certain boutiques in the area, because it beats online shopping only to order something that fits me like a sausage casing. Returns and shipping are always a pain. I will pay the extra money to try it on first to avoid that entire situation.

I’m not always thinking about supporting a family when I visit a little store or when ordering big items like appliances. I think of prices and how much it will afford. This is funny, because our family literally works in a small business. I’m just a human with a real bank account, trying to make my way in the world. Although, I have to say I’ve grown to understand some of the inner workings being part of a self-employed family for the past 12 years.

I understand that things ebb and flow in business and directly affects how you live your daily life. It’s easier in some senses to have your own hours and not answer to anybody, but like anything in life there are contradictions. It’s being your own boss, but being a servant at the same time. It’s the balance of being a lion and a lamb with employees, family members, customers, and figuring out who gets what personality and trying not to hurt someone in the process. You go between tunnel vision and seeing the big picture. There’s so much learning and educating yourself that it never stops. You try not to stake your business on ego or fantasies, but instead reality and balance. Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves the former still happens at times.

The statistics are not friendly with new small businesses. The education is mostly in the experience. So that’s just crazy, but at some point people decide to take the risk. That’s me. I’m the person thinking all of that sounds peachy.

First off, what am I even thinking? The shipping to Alaska alone is nuts for retail, trade, or manufacturing. In my case it’s retail. Somewhere there is charm found in the hard work and having an adventurous spirit. I’m no longer terrified of the unknown, in fact it’s kind of thrilling. Will the end goal be more money or some level of success that I can ride into my old age? Probably not. My goal is short-term and simple. Let’s see what happens. Let’s see if everything is manageable, enjoyable, and if it’ll all pay off. My kids see the quality products their father cranks out that goes from simple scratch to a beautiful and timeless product. My daughter is enjoying my retail journey and learning enough to give me reminders and encourage me in the direction I need to go. She counts my inventory with me, considers the weight of the product, and is excited to tell her friends that her mom sells weird things, like bacon candy canes.

Maybe I’ll make enough to ride off into a Hawaiian sunset. Or maybe I will be found alone in a corner whispering and laughing.

Here’s the thing: Small towns have small businesses and usually that creates hard working people. It has to. We get annoyed when people slack off or seem indifferent about providing poor service, especially when we’ve worked hard in a similar industry.

Most small businesses, even in the sense of healthy competition, want to give our area a good name and meet expectations. I don’t always care that supporting local is supporting a family, even if it’s my family. The basic belief is that we have the honor and obligation to give great customer care and a quality product or service in order to enrich our community. And, yes. We rise to the occasion.

Kasi McClure enjoys being a wife and mother of two in Kenai. She can be reached at

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