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Fairbanks gift shop closing after 35 years

Posted: August 5, 2012 - 12:08am
In this July 27, 2012 photo, Myrna Bertrand, right, her daughters Stacia Koshak, left, and Kim Teegarden, third from left, and granddaughter Jessy Knoll, second from left, pose in their store Somethin' Special in the River Mall in Fairbanks, Alaska. The family-run store will be closing after 35 years. (AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Eric Engman) MAGS OUT  ERIC ENGMAN
ERIC ENGMAN
In this July 27, 2012 photo, Myrna Bertrand, right, her daughters Stacia Koshak, left, and Kim Teegarden, third from left, and granddaughter Jessy Knoll, second from left, pose in their store Somethin' Special in the River Mall in Fairbanks, Alaska. The family-run store will be closing after 35 years. (AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Eric Engman) MAGS OUT

FAIRBANKS — For the past 35 years, spending time behind the counter at Somethin’ Special has become a tradition for the Bertrand family.

The gift shop, which first opened at Shopper’s Forum in 1977, has become a reliable destination for local shoppers. Working there also became a rite of passage for owner Myrna Bertrand’s three daughters and their children.

“We’ve had three generations working in the store, on and off,” said one of those daughters, Stacia Koshak, sitting in a back room at the store. “As soon as they were old enough, they were here.”

“And sometimes a little before,” said her daughter, Jessy Knoll, with a smile.

But the family plans to end that tradition next month, when Somethin’ Special will close its doors. Myrna Bertrand said family considerations and a difficult business environment in Fairbanks helped her realize it was time. The last day at the gift shop will be Aug. 25.

“I’m ready to retire, finally,” Bertrand said. “It took a while, but I’m finally ready.”

The gift shop first opened in 1977, when Bertrand decided to get into the business almost on a whim at the suggestion of a friend. It was located at Shoppers Forum for its first 18 years, before Bertrand relocated to River Mall along College Road when space became too tight.

Bertrand remembers her first foray into stocking the store, when she had little idea what to sell and almost no money to buy it with. It opened with a mish-mash of merchandise that Bertrand busily pieced together.

“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” she said. “We were doing it by our shirttails.”

Despite that uncertain beginning, the store’s eclectic mix of products drew a following of loyal customers that helped it last through parts of five decades. Somethin’ Special has become known for selling a bit of everything — Alaskana, pottery, lotions, mugs and more. Bertrand said one of their biggest sellers in recent years is a collection of purses made from seat belts.

Two of Bertrand’s daughters, Koshak and Kim Teegardin, work at the store. A third, Shelli Bertrand, is a former employee. Their husbands pitched in with maintenance project and groundskeeping, while grandchildren have done everything from handing out punch to customers to working the cash register.

But Myrna Bertrand said the past few years have been tough for business, as high utilities and freight costs have hurt the store’s bottom line. Those higher expenses, combined with new plans for family members, led to the decision to close.

Teegardin plans to move to Washington this fall with her retiring husband, Tim. Knoll, who also works at the store, is pregnant with her first child. Koshak said she’s excited to spend time with her new grandchild and plans to explore a new career path.

Now that the decision has been made to go out of business, Bertrand said she doesn’t want the store to linger. A closing sale will begin Aug. 6, and the family plans to wrap everything up in the following three weeks.

Bertrand and her daughters, however, said it’ll be tough to see Somethin’ Special close.

“On an emotional level, it’s been extremely difficult,” Teegardin said. “It’s been a part of our lives for 35 years.”

But Bertrand said she’ll look back at her time running the gift shop with fondness.

“There’s a lot more joy than sorrow with this store — a lot of happy memories,” she said.

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