Ketchikan native Craig Carson is a world traveler, but he loves it when the world comes to Ketchikan during cruise ship season.
"The cool thing about the cruise ships is they draw from every place in the world,” said Carson, owner of Great Alaskan Souvenir & Gifts. "The majority of passengers are U.S. citizens, but people come from literally all over the world. It’s always exciting to meet people from far-off lands.”
Great Alaskan Souvenir & Gifts is conveniently located near the cruise ship docks. Carson is proud of the quality and authenticity of the merchandise he sells.
"We pride ourselves in the incredible apparel, kids, adults, infants sizes, t-shirts, sweats, hats, hundreds of different items in many different sizes,” he said. He said he works to keep items affordable.
The store is seasonal, closing for the winter. About 90 percent of Carson’s business occurs between May and September. In addition to a wide variety of quality apparel, Great Alaskan Souvenir & Gifts offers knick-knacks, wall hangings and other authentic Alaska products.
The biggest sellers, naturally for Alaska, are jackets.
"Because of the weather, we sell a ton of lined jackets,” he said. "People get off the boat and realize they didn’t dress right, so we have $25 jackets. We sell hundreds and hundreds of them."
"We have a lot of big sellers, but one thing people might not think about is we sell a lot of hand-made Russian dolls. It’s kind of a throw-back to Alaska’s Russian heritage. But we also sell a lot of specialty apparel, shorts, leisurewear, t-shirts, smoked salmon and humorous kind of stuff.”
As for Ketchikan’s winters, Carson says he doesn’t really mind the shorter days and cooler temperatures. But he does travel a lot during the winter, and he added that Ketchikan’s easy accessibility to Seattle allows for an easy escape if winter gets to be too much. He also travels to Europe and Mexico.
Ketchikan’s population swells significantly during the summer cruise ship season, and Carson and his staff are eager to meet the passengers. Carson said the visitor tally to the city reached one million in 2017. He added that up to a half-dozen ships arrive in Ketchikan every day during season.
Carson remembers some of his notable visitors, such as the couple from Washington, D.C. who arrived on a cruise ship and struck up a conversation.
"I remember them well because they wound up moving to Ketchikan,” he said. "They came on a stormy day. We chatted a bit and they went to a local watering hole and then spent five or six hours soaking in the local color. They loved Ketchikan so much they moved here. They moved here not so much because of the weather but because of the people.”
It’s not all business for Carson. In his off-hours, especially during winter when he’s in town, Carson is a major supporter of the local sports scene.
"I’m a youth sports enthusiast or whatever you want to call it,” Carson said. "I’m a youth sports nut case. I typically get involved in high school or youth sports through family and friends and staff. I attend a lot of baseball, basketball and soccer youth sporting events. I enjoy it and I got hooked when my (now grown) kids were in school. Once they graduated there was no reason for me to give it up, especially winter high school boys and girls basketball games.
"As a business owner in a small town, I get hit up all the time for donations for youth sports. We can’t give to everybody but if it’s a kids organization, as a rule I give them something.”
But it’s mainly his businesses — Carson also owns Ketchikan Souvenir & Candy Company as well as a few others — that keep him busy. It’s the people from all over he meets that he enjoys the most.
"People are pretty nice,” he said. "Ninety-six percent of the time they’re good people. You always get a few who aren’t, but I still enjoy talking with everybody.”