Cpt. Marty Hanson
When the president calls members of the National Guard to active duty the law guarantees that most soldiers will have their jobs waiting when they return home. Self employed soldiers are the exception; they are on their own.
“When I answered that call I put everything on the table. The government did not guarantee my business,” said Cpt. Marty Hanson, a member of the 3rd Battalion, Alaska Army National Guard, and owner of Eyewear Express in Soldotna. Hanson is presently serving in northern Kuwait on the Iraq border.
“Just before my deployment, I was in a conversation with someone who said they were not very sympathetic with self employed soldiers in the National Guard. I was caught off guard by that. I realize now that it was an uninformed statement because the risks small business people take can be very high,” said Marty.
Eyewear Express is a full service, one-hour vision center. Marty, 43, opened his first vision center in northern Wisconsin where he grew up. He first came to Alaska to attend an opticians’ convention in 2000. Turning his business trip into a vacation, he drove approximately 500 miles from Fairbanks to Homer on the Kenai Peninsula.
“It’s natural if you’re in business to look in the phone book and see who does what you do,” he said.
There was no one-hour vision centers on the Kenai Peninsula.
“So I did a feasibility study. I consulted with a small business development office, the local chambers of commerce and used local census information to conclude that Soldotna offered the best location on the peninsula. Everybody at some point has to go through Soldotna,” he said.
Amy Hanson is shown in this undated photo fitting a pair of glasses for a client at Eyewear Express in Soldotna. Amy's husband, Marty, owns the business and Amy runs it while her husband is stationed in northern Kuwait with the 3rd battalion, Alaska Army National Guard.
Photo courtesy of Pfc. Moonin, P
His wife, Amy, also is from northern Wisconsin, a rural area with no big city, no bright lights, said Marty. So they were attracted to the Kenai Peninsula with its small towns, rugged mountains and valley streams crowded with salmon.
Recently married, the move was a learning experience in more ways than one, said Amy.
“Marty just took this all on, moving up here. He is amazing. He really knows the eyewear business and he really enjoys it. I learned all this about him moving up here,” she said.
“I enjoy the challenge of starting a new business, and making new friends,” said Marty. “It’s like the difference between showing up at a party where everyone knows you, where you’re comfortable and you have a role, versus going to that same environment and you know absolutely no one, have no role, no expectation, no anything.”
In Soldotna, they rented a space in the Peninsula Center Mall and with the help of friends from Wisconsin turned the space into a store.
“When you do a cold start up you don’t always have the latitude to borrow money, so you have to do the work yourself,” said Marty.
In another move to trim cost, Amy assumed the lab manager position and became a partner in the business.
Five years later, with the business established, Amy learned her husband was being mobilized for Iraq.
“I was scared to death about Iraq. Second, I was scared to death about running the business by myself. I didn’t want to fail,” she said.
“This is where Amy steps up,” said Marty. “The business is in her hands. Our sales have remained solid, which reflects the support of the community. The services we offer have remained unchanged. Everything has pretty much stayed the same including the number of employees.”
“Deep down I knew I could do this. Marty is only a phone call away. I want him to be proud of me when he comes home,” said Amy.
When told about her husband’s comments concerning no guaranteed job, Amy laughed and said, “I didn’t know about that! I’ll guarantee that he gets his job back.”
Staff Sgt. Mac Metcalfe, is the public affairs NCO with HHC, 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry, Alaska Army National Guard, Kuwait.
Youth cooking classes
Pint Size Workshop cooking classes will be held at 10 a.m. Saturdays at Allen and Peterson Cooking and Appliance Center in Kenai. Admission is two cans of food or a $2 donation to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. A parent must remain in the store during the class during the approximate 30 minute workshops.
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