A loyal clientele, knowledgeable staff and the inventory local customers demand, are all key to the continued success of the long-time Soldotna business, Northcountry Fair. Well known for the colorful flowers that adorn the shop's exterior during the summer months, Northcountry Fair has become a key shopping destination for peninsula residents.
Originally started in 1982, the North Country Fair was first a small gift and tabletop store located at the Soldotna Y until 1996. Owner, Liz Schmitt, who has been involved with the company for 21 years, moved the store to its present day location, across the street from Sweeney's in Soldotna. Schmitt expanded the store's size and inventory. "We really listened to our customers' needs and requests and based on that, made the decision to expand our kitchen department. We added several new quality lines of cookware such as Scanpan and Allclad, plus JA Henckel knives and Cuisinart small appliances and food processors. We rounded it off with more kitchen gadgets, a gourmet food and tea section, plus a large amount of bakeware."
Schmitt feels that one of the reasons the store has been so successful over the past 23 years, lies in the inventory the store carries. Currently the merchandise found at North Country Fair centers around more kitchenware and home furnishings, including a wide array of dishware, pottery, table linens, teak dining tables and chairs, plus unusual lamps and handmade items. "The store has a very loyal clientele, we know many of our customers on a first name basis. We have come to know their tastes and listen to their requests, so we can find that unusual item or special gift idea. A large portion of our business is special orders, people don't mind waiting when they know we will order for them a specific item they can't find anywhere else." explained Schmitt.
Schmitt also attributes the store's success to a very knowledgeable staff. Everyone who works in the store enjoys good food and cooking, and have a familiarity with the newest kitchen gadgets, the difference between a quiche and a tart pan, or how to pick the best cookware for your needs. It's not unusual to walk into the store and hear someone sharing recipe ideas or talking about their favorite cookbook.
Not just a kitchen store:
North Country Fair is more than just a kitchen store. "We have always carried gifts for almost any occasion. I try to attend several different markets a year so we can always have something new and unusual in the store. I buy directly from many west coast artists to get the best quality for our customers and to find items that aren't sold by anyone else in the area. We also carry some great locally made items too, like hand thrown pottery by Libby Berezin." notes Schmitt.
Shcmitt sees the store as an integral part of the community. "People sometimes forget that there were a handful of local small businesses that served this community long before the big businesses like Fred Meyer and the K-Mart moved in and we are STILL here and STILL doing our best to provide goods and services for our local customers." The handmade items the store carries offer a quality product for high end shoppers, however North Country Fair strives to carry merchandise to fit everyone's budget. Putting the retail component of the business aside, the shop often sells tickets or posts information about local musical events and fund raisers that are happening in the area.
One of the more unique elements that sets North Country Fair apart in the local area is the Bridal Registry the store offers. A service that not only is of benefit for shoppers seeking that special wedding gift, the bridal registry offers a service to couples getting married. "We personally talk with couples, help them select gifts, then write up their preferences." explained Schmitt. The fact that the gift certificates the store offers are considered valid for three years, also allows newlyweds the opportunity to establish themselves before making their final decisions.
In looking towards 2005 and beyond, North Country Fair plans to build upon what has been successful in the community for the past 22 years, and to listen to customers to keep their quality, prices and options fresh for shoppers. One thing that is not in the foreseeable future is consideration for opening a second location. Despite requests from their customers to do so, Schmitt notes that they are not considering another store anytime in the near future. "It's great being a Soldotna small business, we wouldn't have it any other way." said Schmitt.
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