Owning and operating your own business can bring about long hours and stress but also incredible triumphs and rewards. Much has changed in Gig Harbor over the past 50 years, but you’ll still find the iconic Beach Basket Gift Shop. We recently caught up with General Manager Kim Stokke to find out what it’s been like to have a family run business for half a century.
How did the shop get started, how has it changed over time, and what it is like today?
My family moved to Gig Harbor from University Place in 1969. My parents thought that there was a need for more shopping options in Gig Harbor, so they decided to open a small gift shop featuring baskets, beach décor, greeting cards and other household items.
We began with a small store across from Finholm’s Market on North Harborview and soon outgrew that space. When the Austin-Erickson sawmill property came up for sale, we purchased that property on Harborview Drive. Our popularity grew and at one time we had five other stores in the Puget Sound region. To allow our owners (Julian and Leslie) to enjoy their retirement, we closed those locations to focus our energies on the Gift, Clothing and Christmas Shops in Gig Harbor and The Basket Nook in Tacoma.
What parts of Gig Harbor have changed in the 50 years you've been in business, and what have you noticed remains very much the same as when you opened?
So many things have changed in Gig Harbor over the 50 years. When I started school here there were two junior highs, one high school and three elementary schools, and no streetlights. There were no overpasses; you could cut across 16 to get to the other side of 16. So I would say growth and expansion, traffic and dealing with it is the largest change. The Gig Harbor North and Point Fosdick commercial and residential areas have provided convenience but also challenges to maintain that small-town feel and not become another indistinct strip-mall community.
What has remained the same is the desires to have a small-town feel even with the growth and change. The beauty of Gig Harbor is the water, the trees and Mount Rainier, and the ability for our visitors to access those things. The people, the heritage and tradition are important too.
What do you attribute to being able to run a small business for such a long time?
Hard work, perseverance and not being afraid to try something new; owning our own property has also been important with rising business costs; creating an atmosphere that people want to shop in and then share with friends and family while continuing to provide personalized customer service and merchandise that is different and unique. People tell us that shopping in our store is like a treasure hunt.
Do you feel that small businesses like yourself and others in Gig Harbor can continue to thrive in the area?
Yes I do. We have lost a lot of our downtown small businesses over the years due mainly to changes in shopping habits and greater availability of retail outlets. Sure, some have had health issues or retired, but for most, lack of business was the issue. We compete with a very fast-paced world, so people use online and one-stop shopping so much more. People’s time is valuable, so having those conveniences in a busy world is attractive. However, if you want to have a relationship, an experience, you shop and eat at those small businesses where people know your name.
What are some of the daily challenges with running a family owned small business, and what are some of the biggest rewards?
One of the largest challenges is separating family time from business time and being able to spend time together as a family without it ending up in a business conversation; when there are disagreements, working though them in a positive way so that sound business decisions can be made.
This experience has provided a lot of joy in my life and allowed me to spend more time with my boys when they were younger. They were able to be with my husband and I after school instead of daycare. For me personally, it has allowed me an outlet for my creativity, business sense and created friendships with employees and customers that have become like family.
Where do you see the shop in the near future?
At this time the daily operations are run by daughter Kim (62) and son Mike (60). They, along with their fabulous employees (one who has been with us 35 years and many over 15 years), work to provide an experience that longtime and new customers desire to return to for something fun and unique. Julian (84) and Leslie (83), who are retired, still have their hearts and hands in the business. So until Mike and Kim retire, on we go.
Anything else you would like to add?
We would like to thank those customers that helped us to remain in business for 50 years! We love that we are able to continue traditions that started many years ago. Grandchildren that came in with grandparents to pick out an ornament are now returning with their kids. Traditions and memories made that are priceless. Those stories are what make remaining in business for so many years and being able to share with the next generation so important to us!