MAYOR'S APPRECIATION – Casey McBride, right, receives a gold pan plaque from Mayor Stan Selmer in appreciation for his work for the community over the years. McBride this week closed his Taiya River Jewelry this week after 36 years in business. Courtesy Muni. of Skagway
Long-time business owners say ‘so long’
Taiya River Jewelry, Stowaway Cafe close
By KATIE EMMETS
Two long-time Skagway businesses closed their doors for the last time this week, but the impact the businesses and their owners had on this community will not go away anytime soon.
Both Casey McBride of Taiya River Jewelry and Kim and Jim Long of the Stowaway Café have decided to retire.
“Why are we leaving?” Casey McBride asked. “Well, because it’s time.”
McBride plans to retire with his wife Marcia Cook to a farm they bought in the Midwest.
“But I am not a sour Alaskan with no dough to leave,” he said. “Skagway has been very good for me, and I for it.”
McBride came to Skagway in 1974 with high hopes of working for the White Pass and Yukon Route railway.
When the odds did not work in his favor, McBride picked up spot jobs around town painting houses, which allowed him enough time to work on his newfound hobby of making silver jewelry.
When he got a job as a longshoreman, which he described as a part-time job with full-time pay, he was able to continue jewelry making; but this time he began to focus on gold pieces, as Skagway’s history is deeply rooted in the Klondike Gold Rush.
When it first opened in May of 1976, Taiya River Jewelry was located on 3rd Avenue.
Since then, the store has changed locations a few times as McBride’s jewelry collection grew.
When McBride leased the National Park Service storefront on Broadway across from AB Hall, he was told by Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park that he was the first person to have a lease on park service property in the United States, and that his lease agreement was a “test case.”
McBride said that his jewelry has been a favorite among residents and tourists alike.
“Most people in town have something I made, whether it be silver or gold,” he said. “And a lot of people are looking for something that is made here by someone who lives here, and I appreciate that.”
McBride said his wedding sets are favorites amongst Skagway locals, and he has sold many of them during the store’s years of operation.
But even though McBride has worked hard to produce beautiful jewelry, he was not glued to his workbench.
Since moving to Skagway, McBride has been and active member of the community.
He became a high-ranking officer for the Skagway’s Volunteer Fire Department, served on the Skagway City Council and until last year, was a member of Skagway’s Historic District Commission.
In honor of his more than 33-year commitment to Skagway, Mayor Stan Selmer presented McBride with a plaque for his service on the waterfront, with the fire department and on the HDC.
Selmer said a similar plaque would be placed on a wall in City Hall to showcase McBride’s dedication to the Municipality of Skagway.
“Casey is the first person to go on the Skagway Wall of Fame,” he said. “Which is what we are calling it until something better comes along.”
Last year, he said, former Skagway mayor Tim Bourcy told Selmer a plaque wasn’t sufficient enough to acknowledge people’s contributions to Skagway.
“There are both living and deceased members of the community who made a big difference in the livability of Skagway, and Casey is the first to be recognized for his service,” Selmer said.
As his newspaper ads and window signs read, McBride and Cook plan on spending their semi-retirement on a farm they recently bought in Winneshiek, Iowa, growing tomatoes, feeding chickens, and, of course, making jewelry.
McBride will continue to sell his jewelry on taiyariverjewelry.com. The Broadway space will be occupied by the Wassman family of Skagway, who will keep part of the name. They will call their new gallery Taiya River Arts.
Stowaway owner Kim Long calls a “triplet” on September 23, the restaurant’s last day open. The triplet is a signal for all past and present employees in the restaurant to gather in the kitchen for a toast. The toast was created the first year Stowaway was open, and it was named for the restaurant’s only three employees who had to split one beer three ways. Skagway residents packed the restaurant before it closed, and on its final night, a couple from Whitehorse even made the journey for one last Stowaway dinner. Katie Emmets
After moving to Skagway from Washington and working for the Red Onion Saloon, Kim Long tried to open a restaurant of her own in the Red Caboose when its beer and wine license came up for sale in 1993.
After a 30-day trial, she realized that was not the restaurant for her, and a year later she decided to try again by leasing a piece of property on the waterfront from the city.
Kim’s brother designed the building, and in 1994 – with the help of her family, half-a-dozen people she knew in Skagway, and her friend’s brother who visited the summer before — the Stowaway Café was built.
“Nineteen years ago I came up for a vacation,” said her friends’ visiting brother, Jim Long. “I came back the next year to help build the restaurant and spent the summer falling in love.”
When he first came here, Kim said, Jim told her he worked in the food service industry, and he wanted to get out. But two years later, he was back in it.
Jim created most of the recipes Stowaway patrons know and love, such as the acorn squash bisque, but they may not have always understood what they were.
“He was always naming soups weird things,” Kim said.
When Skagway resident Howard Smith dined at the Stowaway shortly after it opened, Kim greeted him with a smile on her face and told him the soup was “shut up and eat it.”
Smith pushed his glasses down and gave her a weird look, she said, but he ordered soup with his meal anyway.
“When I came back with the bill, I put it on the table and told him to ‘shut up and pay it,’ ” she said. “And we have bonded over that night ever since.”
When the restaurant first started, Kim said, the Stowaway had three employees – a cook, a waitress and a dishwasher. Before it closed, the Stowaway employed more than 24 workers, all of whom Kim referres to affectionately as her kids.
Kim and Jim said the Stowaway started out when Skagway had only 300,000 tourists per year.
But much like the present, it was always busy.
“We were so small, but we were so busy,” she said. “We only had nine tables, so we were constantly sending people away.”
Because Skagway has always had a busy feel during cruise ship season, Kim wanted her restaurant to be one that people could walk into and feel far away from the town hustle and bustle.
“I wanted people to feel like stowaways when they walked in here,” she said. “Get out of Skagway and into the water.”
Sticking with the stowaway and the water theme, the Long’s restaurant is appropriately showered with mermaid décor.
“The mermaids are a personal love of mine,” she said. “I’m a water girl.”
Over the years, the Longs have received all kinds of decorations for the restaurant ranging from paintings to coffee mugs.”
“One day, someone left a pair of gospel singer salt and pepper shakers,” she said. “They had long purple robes.”
A lot of the Stowaway’s staples, including the bread basket cloths, were furbished from Kim’s second-hand shop Formerly Yours?, which she plans to continue running after retiring from the restaurant business.
Jim said he will continue to help friends with construction projects, but he also plans to create plant hangers and other art with the steel that is currently occupying the couple’s yard.
The Longs will continue to live in Skagway and are selling their business to former Stowaway cook and Skagway resident Erik Emery.
Though Emery plans to reopen it next summer under the name Harbor House, Kim and Jim said they would be selling him some of the Stowaway’s recipes, which will appear on his menu.
The Stowaway will have a soup sale sometime this weekend and Jim said the couple plans to hold a mermaid auction online. A Stowaway cookbook will also be published next year for those who want to continue the restaurant’s food traditions in their own kitchens.