Thursday, January 28, 2021
Surviving the First Year-New Store Owners Learn the Ins and Outs
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Mark and Susan Nieves hold baby Marlo next to their sculptural cardboard trophy heads.
   
Monday, November 27, 2017
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

It was a year ago this weekend that Mark and Susan Nieves stepped out of the computer programming world of Seattle into the world of retail in Sun Valley, Idaho.

They founded Independent Goods—a unique store founded on their own love for a good story.

 Their store, at 330 Walnut Ave. in Ketchum, offers handcrafted products lovingly created by individuals who have a good story to tell about their products.

 
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Aly Swindell picks up one of the drinking glasses with topographic indentations of Western mountains.
 

The Nieves introduced their store to the community with an opening celebration featuring the unveiling of a wall featuring a scene from Redfish Lake painted by K-Town artist Jineen Griffith. And this past week they thanked locals for supporting their store with an anniversary party boasting champagne and hors d’oeuvres served up by al McCord of the Wood River Sustainability Center.

“I love it because it’s so different from anything else in Ketchum,” said customer Karl Uri.

A lot of has changed in a year. The couple has learned the ins and outs of dealing with business in a resort town that hinges on seasonal traffic. They watched the ebb and flow of customers during a record-breaking snow year.

And now they’re dealing with a 6-month old daughter named Marlo, whom they recently adopted.

 
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This drinking glass features a topographic indentation of Mt. Rainier.
 

“This is such a different world for an ex-software guy. But it was a dream of ours. Now, to have a child on top—every month has been a discovery, both in terms of the store and our daughter,” said Mark Nieves.

Independent Goods features such unique items as a wooden cutting board in the shape of Idaho crafted by Ketchum’s Elle Andrews. Andrews wrote that she was influenced by her Scottish grandmother who was always exhorting her to throw nothing away.

J. Fargo of Bend, Ore., has stitched together leather handbags that she said had their genesis in a childhood sewing  tipis with her father.

And North Drinkware provides a line of hand-blown glasses that feature topographic impressions of Mt. Rainier, Mount Hood and Yosemite’s Half Dome on the bottom of the glasses.

 
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Spike Coggins, one of the valley’s more colorful characters, not only has his CDs on sale at Independent Goods but he has his own beard grease for sale there, as well.
 

The store features a number of other unusual items, as well.

Where else, for instance, are you going to find Spike Coggins’ beard grease? Morse Code necklaces? Cardboard Safari’s sculptural deer trophies named Fred Jr., Bucky and Buck Jr.? Or books titled “The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids” and “A Treasury of Wintertime Tales?”

You can’t purchase the latest iPhone model here, and with good reason.

“I think people appreciate things made in the United States,” said Susan Nieves, who travels throughout Idaho and a handful of other states searching for unique handcrafted products.

 
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Andrews & Andrews cutting board in the shape of Idaho.
 

She picked up a flyer plane.

“We have a lot of grandfathers buying these flyers for their grandchildren because they remember playing with them when they were little. They provoke conversation.”

She gestured towards an axe paired with a best-selling book titled “Norwegian Wood: Chopping Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way.”

“The axes are refurbished by a Forest Service volunteer, and customers tell us all the time about how they learned to use hatchets for the first time with Boy Scouts,” she said.

Some of the artists and craftsmen that were with the Nieves from the beginning have been able to turn their passions into full time jobs during the past year, said Susan Nieves.

“And some are hoping to get there,” she added.

The Nieves say they learned a lot during their first year in business—simple things like what hours bear the most fruit and how weather affects foot traffic to their store.

During the winter, for instance, they’re not likely to see much business in the early morning if it’s a bluebird powder day. And, while skiers get all giddy about powder days, heavy snowstorms like Sun Valley saw lots of last year definitely cut down shopping sprees as potential customers hunker down in their homes and hotel rooms.

Among the Nieves’ biggest pleasures: Getting to know customers—and other shop owners.

“It’s cool going to Atkinsons’ and seeing our customers,” said Mark Nieves. “And I didn’t expect the camaraderie with other store owners at all. I would have thought these other store owners would have been our competitors, but they aren’t at all. Everyone is great about helping one another out.”

 

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