A new menswear and handmade goods shop on Fourth Avenue feels more like something you'd find in the hippest corners of Portland or Seattle, not downtown Anchorage.
The Mercantile, which had its grand opening June 3, is replete with curated antique decorations, mounted animal heads and proudly handmade, rustic furniture and decor. On a recent weekday, it was filled with the aroma of a candle named Big Sur, with smoky notes of citrus and pine.
The co-owners are two Anchorage-born-and-raised 22-year-olds, girlfriend-and-boyfriend team Bex Farleigh and Mikey Huff, who were looking to fill a niche in the city's menswear shopping options while also striving to bring an in-vogue, West Coast aesthetic to Alaska's largest city.
"I think we're just really trying to change how retail is looked at in Anchorage, and hopefully people will understand it," said Farleigh, who has a cedar leaf tattoo on the left forearm and a Venus symbol tattoo on the right, her ombre hair topped off with a fedora. "We definitely want more of a community than just a transaction."
Both Farleigh and Huff are photographers. They don't have any experience running a store. But that doesn't faze them.
"We don't know much about business," Farleigh said, "and it just shows that if you try really hard to learn about something, and you dedicate all of your time to making something happen, you can definitely make it happen."
Huff said he took out a personal loan, and Farleigh said she used money that was originally intended for college — she briefly attended the University of Alaska Anchorage — to fund the shop.
Neither are college grads. Huff, who went to Bartlett High School, recently worked as an assistant for another photographer. Farleigh went to Highland Tech High School (now called Highland Academy Charter School) in East Anchorage and has previous retail experience.
The couple painted and designed the dark-walled shop, sometimes with help from friends and lots of YouTube video tutorials. They used wood from an Anchorage shed to build the box that houses two dressing rooms. Their homemade take on a chandelier is a cluster of Edison lightbulbs dangling from a railroad tie.
"My friend Willie helped, and I feel like we have male answer syndrome, where we just want to pretend we know the answer to everything," said Huff, who has a tattoo of Alaska outlined on his right arm and a bold, black cross and Kurt Vonnegut's "so it goes" on the other. He wears dark, cuffed jeans, a flat-brimmed baseball cap and a light beard. "He'd be like, 'We could totally make that table we saw on the internet,' and just make it, but we'd make a whole bunch of mistakes."
Racks and shelves are stocked with simple but quality shirts, jeans, bags, hats, Field Notes notebooks, cutting boards and body washes with names like "white sage" and "cascade forest," from other companies.
Huff and Farleigh also hope to host classes and events at the shop — like a pop-up barbershop in the near future — with the goal of fostering a sense of community.
Their vision is to encompass the perfect blend between outdoorsy and city-dweller. Soon, The Mercantile will reach even deeper into the Northwest style and serve pour-over coffee from Portland's Stumptown Coffee Roasters.
"I feel like a lot of times it can be sort of stagnant in Anchorage; things don't change that much," Farleigh said. "I feel like there's a stigma, like a lot of people think 'Oh, Anchorage is really lame, there's nothing new, it's super boring, there's nothing to do.' I feel like in the last year or so it's just changed a little bit … and we want to be part of that."
They gathered inspiration from other shops they've traveled to, especially in California, and that's where some of their goods come from — like home goods store Norden Goods in Encinitas, or fragrance retailer Juniper Ridge in the San Francisco Bay area.
Huff said that what's sold best so far, though, are the Alaska-made items, including leather goods he makes in-house and products from businesses like Cut & Caliber and The 49th Supply Co. (both in Anchorage) and Gold Heart Supply (in Fairbanks).
As a couple on the younger end of the millennial scale, the hardest part of starting the new business was finding a space to lease, Farleigh said.
"I think people didn't take us seriously — we're 22," she said. "I think that's sort of also what the landlord thought."
Their honed photography skills give them both an eye for how to use social media to market themselves instead of paying for advertising — "it's more organic," Farleigh says. Combined, they have tens of thousands of followers on Instagram. Their accounts are the pinnacle of outdoorsy hipsterdom, where everyone is effortlessly fashion-shoot ready, whether hiking or camping (and eating a perfectly-lit breakfast atop expertly ruffled bedding has never looked so artsy).
"People want to look at pretty images," she said. "People are stoked to be able to get behind a business where they're like, 'Yeah, I want to shop there, but also that just looks cool.' "
The duo settled on the name "Mercantile" because of its connotation as a general store, so that they won't be pigeonholed. Their logo features their dog, Boogie.
But are they worried at all about opening a shop selling beard oil, $265 Filson briefcases, $80 sweatshirts or $70 handmade wallets at a time when Alaska's economy is so unstable?
"We didn't spend a lot of time stressing about it," Huff said. "It's just like, we're going to make this store one way or the other and if it doesn't work out, then the worst that happens is we tried."