Ketchikan’s Rain Barrel gift shop is more than a warm and welcoming place to pick up handcrafted art, native artifacts, Alaskan carvings, native art, apparel and dozens of other items that make a trip to the store memorable.
Indeed, Rain Barrel is a family affair.
"Between my wife’s, my daughter’s and my expertise and knowledge of retail gift shops, we’ve been really successful,” said Jesus Delatorres of the family-run business. "My wife (Wendy) has been in the business for 35 years and my daughter (Dominique) grew up in the business, making her own jewelry in elementary school and going out and collecting buoys in the mangroves in the Florida Keys and turning them into art.”
Delatorres is a native of the Florida Keys who arrived in Ketchikan for the 50th anniversary of Wendy’s parents in 2008. Upon arriving in Ketchikan, it was love at first sight for the Delatorres family.
"It was just the beauty of the place,” he said. "We were lucky when we got here because we got a week of sunshine. But being in the business we saw how many people got dropped off by the tour ships. We thought maybe we could stay here, do some business and enjoy God’s beauty. Then we met some of the carvers, did some research about the natives and really got into it.”
"Because I’m from the Keys I almost named the place ‘The Keys to Ketchikan’ but because it rains so much here, I thought ‘Rain Barrel’ was a more appropriate name.”
While Dominique is the store owner, everyone in the Delatorres family is involved with the store.
"My daughter Dominique is truly amazing, truly amazing,” Delatorres said. "She’s just got this gift for this business and for her buying, her insight into native culture and the art world. Between my wife and me and my daughter, we have a lot of experience in retail shops. But really, working with family is all I care about.”
And the Delatorres’s treat everyone like family.
"Everybody is welcome here,” Jesus said. "We treat everyone like we would want to be treated. We guide them in the right direction for the items they’re looking for. We’re not just trying to make a buck, but we really want visitors to get what they came for, whether it’s at our shop or another shop that we can guide them to.”
"It’s their show. It’s their time and their story and we’re just filling in some pages for them.”
Rain Barrel offers a lot to fill those pages for visitors.
Rain Barrel offers the most authentic variety of native art, ulus, knives, Alaskan carvings, jewelry, apparel and accessories, artifacts and hand-crafted art. The store also has traditional souvenir fare for those who are simply seeking a small memento of their visit to Ketchikan.
"I would say my personal favorites are the fossilized mammoth ivory, the jewelry, carvings, whale bone, totem poles,” Delatorres said. "We’ve got a bit of everything. You can also find trinkets to go with the carvings. We’ve got t-shirts, soaps and we even have an electric car rental.”
It may seem odd that Delatorres, a native Floridian, a "conch,” the monicker which refers to the plentiful conch shells in the Keys and the nickname for native-born residents of the Florida archipelago, should fall in love with rainy and occasionally inclement Ketchikan. But Delatorres said you simply have to look at the landscape to understand the allure of Alaska.
"The Keys are pretty special, man,” he said. "Even at 100 feet down you can see the bottom. Here in Ketchikan you go five feet and you can’t see anything, it’s so deep. But we live here now, and once the summer season is over, we go hunting and fishing, and in January and February we go north to visit our carvers and get mammoth and walrus ivory. We try to be unique and original. We want to get the real native carvings.”
If you’re planning to visit Rain Barrel, it’s located at 400 Spruce Mill Way in Ketchikan, and Delatorres, who never met anyone who wasn’t a friend, said visitors will always find a friendly, family atmosphere.
"We have a lot of repeat customers,” he said. "We’ve had people come in here 20 times. We have so many friends. That’s because we are unique, so unique. We’re number one on TripAdvisor. I remember the first time a guy came in and said ‘we read about you online’ and I thought ‘oh my God, what did they read?’ I didn’t know about TripAdvisor at the time, so I was really happy we got a number one rating.”
"But the best part of it all is the people. Different people, different nationalities. People come back because you’ve got friends here.”
Delatorres is proud of Rain Barrel. So proud, in fact, that he isn’t shy about promoting the shop’s amiable atmosphere and its wide range of offerings.
"Without a doubt, even if it was not my store, I’d say that if you’re in Ketchikan, ‘Rain Barrel’ is a must-stop,” he said. "The best part of having a store like ‘Rain Barrel’ is the visitors, the people from different nations, our repeat customers. It’s all a blessing from God.”