The new sign at the Kasilof Mercantile bears a striking resemblance to one in the television series "Northern Exposure." It is one of many changes the owners of the store have made since taking over ownership almost a year ago.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
When you drive by the new sign hanging on the front of the Kasilof Mercantile, you can almost hear the opening theme that was as quirky and upbeat as the characters living in the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska in 1990s hit comedy “Northern Exposure.”
“It’s such a recognizable symbol that people identify with Alaska. So we played off the idea in the hopes the people will see it, remember it and come on in,” said Rocky Laster, one of the owners of the Kasilof Mercantile.
The new 112-square-foot sign -- painted by Preston Luke of Clam Gulch -- bears a striking resemblance to the mural painted on the side of Roslyn’s Cafe that a moose walks past in the opening sequence of the television series, right down to the tiny apostrophe s that patriotic ex-astronaut Maurice Minnifield explained was due to the hippie passing through town who painted the mural being “so high on the weed he forgot the ‘apostrophe s’. I had to squeeze that in myself!”
Laster said “There are a few differences, though.”
The sign on the “Merc,” as the store is known locally, features a moose instead of a camel, has Mount Redoubt in the background instead of a generic mountain scene, and reads “Rocky’s Cafe -- an oasis” instead of “Roslyn’s Cafe an oasis.”
Laster said it is just one more of the many changes and additions he and his family have made since taking over the business last year.
“From when we took over -- April of last year to now -- our inventory has at least tripled,” Laster said.
In the past 12 months, the Merc has raised an old-time cache surrounded by several large chainsaw carvings outside. Inside additions are a mushing section with specialized dog food, harnesses and supplies to meet the needs of local mushers and those in town for the Tustumena 200, and a hardware section with carpentry, plumbing, electrical and chainsawing equipment “so people don’t have to run all the want to town for one little thing,” he said.
“My dad, Bob Laster, has done a lot of the work. He’s been building nonstop for a year,” Laster said.
More changes are in the works as the store prepares for the summer tourism season, according to Laster.
“We’re reconfiguring our dining and kitchen area to make a nice, relaxing spot for people to eat,” he said.
This “new” dining area, which Laster said should be completed by the beginning of April, features tongue and groove pine woodwork. There is a wooden bar and stools for people to grab a quick bite, and several booths for those who want to sit longer. The booths are adjacent to several windows with new stained glass artwork depicting Alaska animals in their natural habitats.
“When we go to our summer hours, the cafe will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. We’ll also be adding a soda fountain so people can get sundaes, milk shakes, banana splits and other ice cream treats,” he said.
Laster said the “old” dining area will be converted into a souvenir shop specializing in merchandise relating to the area, rather than a generic “Alaska” gift.
“The people that live out here are proud of Kasilof, and the Kasilof River which has dynamite fishing, so we thought it was time to fill a much-needed niche. Now people that live here that want to send out a shirt or gift, or tourists just stopping in, can get something unique. Something that says ‘Kasilof’ on it,” he said.
Laster said he and his family are excited about the changes that have been made over the past 12 months.
“We’ve added so much stuff, I think the store will be 10 times as busy this summer. I just hope we’re ready for it,” he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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