Popular homes draw in crowds for local vendors
By Naomi Klouda
Imagine a store in downtown Homer where you could buy a more energy-efficient stove, pick up a solar panel or two and purchase an electric car.
That’s one of the dreams behind a new set of stores cropping up on the Sterling Bypass. The Alaska Yurt Village is a collection of a dozen vendors sharing space in yurts that were built and marketed by Nomads.
Lannie Simpson, in addition to marketing his award-winning photography this summer, is a certified ZAP truck dealer under his company, Alaska High Mountain Energy. The ZAP, which stands for Zero Air Pollution, is a small truck built in Santa Rosa, Calif. It operates around 40 miles per hour and only needs to be plugged in at night. Simpson said he will also sell other electric personal transportation vehicles and scooters. The vehicles are being shipped up now, and should be for sale at the Yurt Village soon.
With partners such as Mark Vial of VBS Heating, Simpson intends to grow into a year-round business at the village, eventually offering other alternative energy products. In each yurt, where two or more vendors have set up business, a cozy wood-burning stove is kept lit to ward off spring chill. One of the yurts offers a demonstration of a VBS soapstone stove that burns on less wood than conventional stoves and sends fewer emissions into the air.
Simpson, known for his expertise on federal and state grants as well, would like to establish the village as a central location for information on applying for alternative energy grants.
“The most exciting part, for me, as we transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy, is to help create a subindustry for our economy,” Simpson said.
For example, the company that makes ZAPs is offering to certify technicians who can work as mechanics on their line of vehicles. Any alternative energy source for achieving electricity could be used to run the electric engines, Simpson said. That means another area opens up for creating jobs and community expertise.
These ideas meshed well with Nomad owners Jessica and Lee Tenhoff, who like to see sustainable Homer projects that feed the local economy and offer consumers earth-friendly alternatives.
“We started it because we needed to set up our demos so people could see all the yurt sizes and options,” said Jessica Tenhoff. “Before, we had to send people up to the ridge to look at them. Now we make them right in town, and it works out nice to have them all there.”
Since the yurts went up, the next logical step was to allow individual vendors to lease the space and show their goods that are manufactured here in Homer. While the vendors are encouraged to sell handcrafts made locally, they are also supported if their economic ideas help the economy and offer sustainable environmental ideas.
The Tenhoffs said they are also hoping to have a stage set up by summer solstice, to throw a few musical events into the mix. The location – just up from Bishop’s Beach and just down from the Homer Visitor’s Center – opens to a view of Kachemak Bay. It’s also close enough to Main Street and Pioneer Avenue shops to create walking opportunities, Tenhoff said.
“We’re hoping to get people out of their cars. A lot of times, they go shooting out to the Spit,” Tenhoff said. “This is a chance to walk to Old Town – we’re on a path down to that road. If we could get them out of their cars and making use of our trails, it would benefit the whole area.”
Early in the tourist season, the distinctive earthen brown yurts tend to be what first draws visitors to stop. Questions asked by enthusiastic visitors runs a predictable course: Can you put a bathroom in it? Can you bring power into it? Will it stand up to snow? By having a central location after the original Grubstake shop was destroyed last year in a fire, the Tenhoffs are finding a few advantages to show off the structures they say can handle tough Alaska winters.
The hope is for the Yurt Village to last all year long, not just in the summer time. Themes and uses could shift from a summer to a winter focus. After summer’s visitors leave, vendors can stay on to offer educational opportunities to the community.
“This embraces a business incubator vision where you can test your products and support local products made right here in Homer,” Tenhoff said.
Sharon Clause and husband/photographer Steve Clause, want to offer make-it-and-take-it art projects for summer visitors. A line of fabric post cards, quilt pillows and other sewing projects can be completed in an afternoon, and perhaps supply entertainment for women who don’t want to accompany their husbands out on fishing charter boats.
They also carry Ralph Stover’s “Original Goofy Moose Collection,” of detailed chain-saw Alaska animals. Stover is well known for his unique carving style and was formerly at the Lighthouse Village.
Bill Kitzmiller also is known as a demonstration artist, carving his wood creations and marketing them in the Solar Wind Art Studio Yurt.
Dan and Nancy Coe opened “Handpainted Signs” at the village, featuring Dan’s distinctive painted furniture and signs. This gives the Coes a Homer in-town location, since they live and work in Anchor Point.
Stephanie Alward’s “Sapphire Sea Studios” is also open for business at the Yurt Village, where she sells her art and jewelry. She is another candidate for teaching classes to the public, as is Gail Moto, who makes the Alaska Native kuspiks and fur parkas.
“We’re hoping this takes off for year-round activity,” Tenhoff said. “This is such a beautiful, central spot that links in with so many other places close by.”
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