Every shop owner describes their establishment as unique.
But few can say they are as homey as Alaska Northern Lights gift shop on Ketchikan’s Creek Street in the former red light district.
“Well, it is a unique little place,” said owner Debbie Laws, who opened the shop 10 years ago. “But I’m always told that it’s a comfortable place to come in and shop. It’s not too overwhelming. It has a real homey feel to it.”
Part of what makes it so folksy is the fragrances that drift throughout the store. Laws carries several types of scented soaps and herbal teas that make Alaska Northern Lights gift shop smell delightful and give the place a down-home, intimate feeling.
When visitors come to the shop, the scents are the first thing they will notice. But Laws carries a wide variety of items from Alaskan artists. She said visitors really love the various types of works by Ketchikan artists as well as those from throughout Alaska.
“We have a lot of hand-made items from Alaska and Ketchikan,” Laws said. “The biggest thing people like is the jewelry, but you can get all kinds of different things including jams and jellies and spices you can’t find anywhere else."
“I also have handmade Alaska dolls and ornaments, but the biggest thing is the jewelry. Everything is handmade and most of it is made in the U.S. We’ve also got handmade crafts such as knitted and crocheted scarves. And little wine cork Christmas ornaments.”
Laws is especially proud of the jewelry made by her daughter, Kamille, and a book, “Trails and Tails: Dog Adventures in Alaska,” written by her son Houston, an ultra-marathoner and dog “runner” who trains dogs for races. The shop also features watercolors by Kana Yamasaki Mettler.
Laws is a native of Murphreesboro, Tennessee who has also lived in Montana and came to Ketchikan 30 years ago when her late husband Patrick took a job as a commercial guide, fisherman and diver.
Laws never met anyone who wasn’t a friend, and she said meeting people from different cultures during cruise season is one of the pleasures of running the shop.
“I love meeting people from around the U.S. and the world and helping them find things they can’t find anywhere else,” she said. “We always try to be really friendly. It’s the courtesy and our interest in what they’re looking for that makes people come back year after year. I have a lot of people who take the same cruise lines who come back every year.”
Laws takes pride in her little store and she loves making a living by meeting new people who walk in and by seeing previous customers.
“But the main thing I’m most proud of is that I’m able to run the store and provide for myself and stay in the community even though it’s only a seasonal store,” said Laws, who said the shop is open from March to September. During the off-season she schedules buying trips to pick up interesting items for her customers.
Laws believes Alaska Northern Lights gift shop fits in well with the artistic Ketchikan spirit and the Creek Street scene.
“Ketchikan is a very artistic place,” Laws said. “But it’s more laid back and friendly, a really good place to raise kids and take advantage of opportunities to help the community. We’re really artistically oriented here and there’s a lot of things that go on that the community really supports like nonprofit fundraising, people donating stuff.”
“Usually, if an organization or a school needs something the town will do a fundraiser or raffle, things like that. Even when someone’s ill, everyone pitches in to help. It’s a special place.”