Q&A With Cliff and Linda of Brown and Hawkins Mercantile
It’s often said that people make the place, and we couldn’t agree more. Our new spotlight series introduces you to Seward Chamber of Commerce members who make our community an incredible place to live, work and play.
Linda Chichester and Cliff Krug moved to Seward in 2015 and acquired the historic business, Brown and Hawkins Mercantile. This general store offers a unique assortment of apparel, jewelry, art, and home goods along with an assortment of Alaskan made treasures. They celebrate the 100+ years that Brown & Hawkins has served Seward locals and its visitors by maintaining a connection between yesterday and today through dynamic product selections, displays, customer service and community engagement.
We recently sat down with Cliff to learn more about the journey he and Linda have taken as small business owners in Seward.
What makes your business special or unique? In other words, what are you known for?
We try to offer a wide range of interesting things for the entire family that aren’t easily found but are still reasonably priced. Our goal is to cover a wide range of categories so that guests can enjoy a one-stop shopping experience. We are flexible with our buying so that we can bring in what is needed when it is needed. Our commitment to celebrating artisans extends, not just to Alaska beyond as well. There are so many talented people to discover and share together; they can enrich our lives. Finally, we are always looking for deals to pass on to our customers. We will always maintain an off-price section of things, in limited quantities that are really, really, really, good deals.
Tell us about a product or service that you’re particularly proud of.
That is a tough one because there are so many things – in the end we never stop trying to find unique things that can create meaningful connections, no matter how small, between a vendor or artist and our customers. We are proud of the range of products that we carry and this range is ultimately a reflection of Brown & Hawkins’ history. It’s not just a nice place to shop, it can be an inspiring place to just visit.
What is the best compliment your business has ever received?
All the local support. So many people come into our store saying that they came because someone had told them they had to check it out.
Describe a risk that you’ve taken in your business that paid off.
We opened in the off-season, but a lot of concerned people suggest to us strongly that we should wait until spring. However, we felt that it was the best time to get comfortable in the space, interact with our shoppers and nurture the store. Not only was it the right choice but it really allowed us to bond with the Seward community on a whole different level and identify unique opportunities like Seward Second Saturdays. This wouldn’t have been possible if we had opened in the spring instead.
What advice would you give to a new business owner who is working to build a business like yours?
In today’s market, in order to maintain sustainable growth, we recommend trying to create meaningful connections with your customers. Get to know your customer and find out what they really want. Be flexible and willing to adapt to their needs and evolving lifestyles. There are so many ways, big and small, to do this day in and day out. And it is through doing these things and finding new ways to do these things that you will keep yourself and your business fresh, relevant and vital.
What would people be surprised to learn about your business or your journey as a business owner?
Linda crewed Hot Air Balloons for 15 years in USA & Europe. I taught Theater Lighting in Europe for 7 years. Linda & I first met when Linda hired me to work with her at the Mt. Roberts Tram in Juneau before we moved to Girdwood.
What do you like most about living and working in Seward?
First, the amazing world that surrounds us everyday. It can take your breath away in a moment. Second, the people and the community that they have built. Third, the history is all around you and even if you dig just a little you can appreciate how vital Seward has been to Alaska over time.
How long have you lived in Seward? What first brought you here?
I got a job managing the retail shops at Pursuit/Kenai Fjords Tours three years ago while Linda worked as Director of Retail for Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. She transitioned into managing the Once in a Blue Moose stores here in Seward seasonally over the following year.
Tell us about a community member in Seward who you admire.
Wow, that is a tough one too. There are so many amazing people here in Seward. Tom & Kathy Gillespie, Hugh & Iris Darling, Jennifer Headtke, Judy Odhner, Ron Wille and Nicole Lawrence just to name a few. They have all helped, encouraged and guided us in so many ways, big and small, from the beginning. These are all people that welcomed us to Seward and in one way or another showed us their way. And they have even provided a timely reality check or two when needed! We are grateful to know them all.
How do you spend your free time?
We love what we do so we are always looking for new products, assessing numbers and strategizing. But a good walk, a good meal and a nap are always welcome in between!
Where’s your favorite spot in Seward to unwind?
Right now, we love eating something scrumptious at Zudy’s on the deck, in the sun, as the whales are bubble net feeding. In the fall, we enjoy our decks in the morning or evening. There’s nothing like a good cup of coffee in the morning or a chilled glass of riesling in the evening looking out onto the bay. It does the soul good.
There are so many great wilderness areas to explore around Seward and Kenai Fjords. If you had a free weekend, where would you go?
Is there anything exciting on the horizon that you’d like to share?
We will be adding outdoor gear and some more specific things that locals have been asking us to carry this fall. We are continually looking for great bargains so watch our Facebook page for arrival announcements. An eCommerce site is on the horizon for end of 2018 too with the help of our friends at Able Millane Web Services!
Feature Image: Shopping in the historic Brown and Hawkins Mercantile is like stepping into the past. The city of Seward is lucky to have a store that has endured more than 100 years in the historic downtown district. Photo Courtesy of Cliff Krug.
For more information about Brown and Hawkins, click here or call 907.831.1995.