Last year, more than a million people visited Ketchikan, and Craig Carson and his staff are at the ready to share with them confections like genuine Alaskan Huckleberry Candy as well as insider tips about the city at the Ketchikan Souvenir and Candy Company. Anything to make visitors’ trips sweeter.
Carson and his friendly staff members are selling more than candy and souvenirs at the shop.
They’re selling Ketchikan.
"I think our success is very simply that we employ only locals,” Carson said. "We pride ourselves in not just being here to sell things. We offer a lot of information about recreational opportunities, eating, hiking or anything else you’d like to do in Ketchikan. We have a very helpful staff.”
Carson is a Ketchikan native — "born and raised! Both sets of grandparents came after World War II” — who loves just about everything Ketchikan. He especially enjoys the recreational opportunities, the people and "the ability to get away from it all. You can get in a boat, go out 15 minutes and not see anybody all day.”
"Ketchikan is a real town,” he said of city and the 12,000 or so souls who live in the city year-round. "We have a year-round economy, a shipyard, a fishing fleet and a lot of history. There is nowhere I’d rather spend spring and summer. There’s no place I’d rather be for about six or seven months of the year. I’m biased, but it’s a great town.”
At the heart of the town is Carson’s shop, Ketchikan Souvenir and Candy Company at 300 Front Street. Here, you get more than a taste of a Jelly Belly or taffy, you get customer service that reflects the staff’s love of the town. Visit the place and you’ll feel like, well, a kid in a candy store. But you’ll also learn a lot about Ketchikan.
Ketchikan Souvenir and Candy Company boasts a candy selection that is "a little bit of everything,” according to Carson, including 48 flavors of Jelly Bellies, chocolates, gummies and 20 different flavors of saltwater taffy. In addition, there’s licorice of all kinds, genuine Alaska wild Huckleberry Candy, boxed candies and kettle corn popped fresh daily.
The shop also boasts a wide selection of clothing, from adult’s and children’s sleepwear to shirts, hoodies, jackets and made-in-Alaska souvenirs.
Meanwhile, Carson himself admits to having a weakness for the chocolate-covered almonds.
"There are not many things I could eat a lot of, but with milk chocolate I have a problem,” he said.
The store features about 160 different kinds of bulk candies that Carson sells by the pound. The biggest sellers are chocolate-covered Oreos, although Carson also sells a lot of sour Jelly Bellies.
"It’s a full-service candy store,” Carson said, "and even though I’ve been doing this for more than 25 years, I still look forward to seeing the customers.”
Carson said roughly 80 to 90 percent of his employees are high school and college kids from the area, but the shop also has full-time, year-round employees, too, who all know the area well. That makes for a homey atmosphere at the store because everybody knows something about the town they can share with visitors. He said that up to a half-dozen ships arrive in Ketchikan every day during season, comparing the brisk pedestrian traffic at Ketchikan Souvenir and Candy Company during cruise season to the bustle one day before Thanksgiving at just about any grocery store in America.
"The town is buzzing, and so is the store,” he said.
So what kind of tips does Carson offer to his sweet-toothed clients? Here’s a good one:
"The one thing I tell people when they get off the ship and they want to see the local sites, jump into a cab,” he said. "We have great cab drivers. If you throw three or four people into a cab you can take a tour of the area for $30 or $40. It’s a bit of a secret, but you’d have as good a time and see as much at $30 than you would on a tour for $300.”
Carson or one of his accommodating staff members will be happy to summon one of those cabs for you.
Meanwhile, Carson will continue to sell his confections to visitors while dispensing the kind of homespun wisdom that can only be found with a native Ketchikanian at Ketchikan Souvenir and Candy Company.
"I like people, and after all this time I still enjoy showing off Ketchikan,” Carson said.