By Jenny Neyman
As many a savvy small business owner and office worker on the central Kenai Peninsula knows, if you need an item and can’t find it in the office supply aisle, try Stubs. If it’s not already housed within the pink and gray building, decorated with murals of Alaska wildlife, store owners will know where to find it.
But after 25 years of keeping people in paper clips, ledger paper, ink cartridges and all manner of other organizational paraphernalia, the Stubs Office Supply known for its willingness to custom order, has given up trying to order itself a buyer. The store will close by the end of the year.
“We’re retiring,” said Judy Consiel, co-owner of Stubs Office Supply on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna. “My husband retired seven years ago. He has been very patient, but he’s getting tired of waiting.”
Consiel’s family bought the office supply store in 1975 from Roger and Barbara Thorsen. It was originally housed in the smaller pink and gray building adjacent to the current store, with one bare, hanging light bulb and merchandise stuffed into milk crates. Consiel’s parents, C.R. (Clarence Roy) “Stub” and Viola Morrison bought the store as an investment, and to set their son, Harold, up in a business venture. Harold was just returning from service in the Coast Guard.
The family moved to the area from Oregon in 1967. Stub Morrison worked in the oilfield, and did sheet metal and duct work for construction projects around town — including Central Peninsula Hospital, the Borough Building, several schools and industrial plants in Nikiski. Viola was one of the first employees at the newly built hospital, first at the switchboard and then in purchasing, but she left the hospital to help run the store.
Harold was killed in a plane crash in December 1975, and the Morrisons sold the store to Yukon Office in 1979, though they retained ownership of the building. The store changed hands to Corporate Express, and when its lease on the building was set to expire in 1988, the company decided it would consolidate its Soldotna and Kenai locations into one store in the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
With their building about to become vacant, the Morrisons decided to take over the business again in October 1988. Corporate Express changed its mind about consolidating, and instead opened a store in Soldotna in what is now The Salvation Army building on the Kenai Spur Highway. Eventually, both that store and the one in Kenai closed, leaving just Stubs as the only strictly office supply store on the central Kenai Peninsula.
What Stubs may have lacked in stock — there’s only so much room for erasable wall calendars, letter trays and staples, after all — the family made up for in special orders.
“We did mail-out service, all over the state. They can’t seem to get Anchorage to do it, so we did. There are going to be a lot of unhappy people (when we close),” Viola said.
About half of the store’s weekly shipment of merchandise is special orders, Consiel said. Up until a few years ago, they used to make regular deliveries, too.
“I stopped when the price of gas shot up to $4 a gallon,” Stub said.
Spanning the decades of the personal technology revolution, Stubs has catered to those who have jumped onboard with computers and printers, and those who have drug their feet making the conversion.
“When we were first in the business, all of your bookwork was done by pencil and paper. We had big stacks of different kinds of paper — eight, 10, 12, clear to 16 lanes. Then computers came in and we had to throw out big stacks of them.
Nobody used them anymore,” Stub said.
Venturing into the technology supply realm was especially challenging back when computers and printers were still new to people and weren’t upgraded as often as the new-today, antiquated-tomorrow pace of technology today.
“In 1988, there were a lot of older machines. We really had to dig to find things to keep them running,” Consiel said. “With newer machines, it’s not nearly as hard as it used to be. I used to have to do a lot more research than I do now.”
Consiel and her sister, Paula Morrison, have gotten particularly adept at printers, figuring out which new cartridges will replace old ones, and deciphering customers’ sometimes less-than-helpful descriptions of their machines.
“People say, ‘Well, you know my printer,” Paula said. “I say, ‘No, we’ve never personally met.’ I get the strangest looks.”
“We read sign language pretty well,” Consiel added, pantomiming how people describe the machines they want ink for in terms of only hand gestures.
The store’s biggest-selling item these days is printer ink, although some oldies but goodies still move off the shelves, like typewriter ribbon and rubber stamps.
When the store closes, Paula expects that customers may have to dig a little harder to find the special items they need, possibly looking in Anchorage or ordering on the Internet.
“Our customer service, people will miss that,” she said.
She and Consiel, and part-time worker Stacie Coval, in turn, will miss their customers. And their office dogs, Skipper, Tazzy and Georgie, will miss the company of each other and having visitors all day long.
“I’ve enjoyed meeting the people, helping them, being a service to them. I’m gonna miss a lot of the people. I always enjoyed talking with them, and we’ll still run into them, it just won’t be as often,” Consiel said.
The business was for sale for three years, but the family never got a reasonable offer.
“One nibble, but no bite,” Consiel said. “It’s still making money. I told that to one lady and she said, ‘Oh, I thought you were losing money.’ I said ‘No, we’re just getting old.’ I think the economy tanked and it kind of scared everybody off. I was hoping a family would come in and do it, like us.”
“We figured somebody would see the potential and slide right in while we slide right out,” Paula said.
The Morrisons decided they’ve waited long enough and are going ahead with retirement. They plan to close by Dec. 18, unless they sell out of stock sooner. Sept. 28 will be the last date for custom orders, and they’ll accept charges through the end of October. They hope to lease the building after they close.
It’s disappointing to close the ledger on the business after so many years, but they’ve been good years, Stub said.
“We have some pretty good girls. They took over and built it up even more than it was. They’ve done a good job with change,” he said.
With even more change on the horizon, Consiel said it’s time for someone else to keep up with it.
“My son works on machines that make computer chips. He’s told me what’s coming up. I don’t want nothing to do with it. I have enough problems with what’s going on right now,” she said.