Sea Mart’s is a classic small-town business story. It was started as C.R. Rands Co. in 1949 by Roger Hames’s maternal grandparents. Fifteen years before opening their grocery store, Hopewell Rands ran a music shop on Lincoln Street and Clarence had a construction company. They built their store in the same Biorka neighborhood where Clarence had built homes.
When daughter Barbara Rands married Lloyd Hames, and the young couple joined the operation, the business entered its second generation as Market Center.
The Rands retired in 1969, and the Hames Corporation was formed. Roger Hames told the Sitka Chamber that Lloyd had a simple approach to employing his own children when they were old enough: They could either work willingly and be paid, or work reluctantly and not get paid.
Lloyd Hames moved to the Pioneer Home this year. Barbara was in the audience. Hames said his parents were “my heroes.”
“My father had such energy and vision for always trying to find a better way. He had an unrelenting passion for hard work and trying to find the best for his customers. The most lasting impression I have of my folks is that it’s really about character and integrity. I think those are two traits that are lacking in many people who run big businesses today, across our country and around the world. And though important, it’s not always about the dollar in the decisions that are made for our business.”
Roger Hames says he never doubted that he would be a grocer. He graduated from Sitka High School in 1975 and briefly tried college in Oregon. But he was reluctant to be away from the family business for long. Lloyd and Barbara had expanded, first by acquiring the Center Superette, where the Cellar is now located, and then opening a larger store originally called Market Foods.
It was a busy, prosperous time for the company, and Hames was having some luck of his own.
“Market Foods ceased operations and was replaced with the current Sea Mart Quality Foods in 1978. I remember that well. We closed down Market Foods Thanksgiving weekend, tore everything out of there, and then opened in December 1978 Sea Mart Quality Foods. I remember it well for two reasons: One, I had to tell my wife that we couldn’t get married on the date we wanted to. We had to move it up. My dad said, Get married now, or it’s going to be a long time down the road. So we moved it up and everyone goes, Aha, they’re moving up their wedding date!”
Mary Hames was among the many Hames Corporation representatives in the chamber audience.
The opening of Sea Mart launched a period of expansion that would put the Hames Corporation on the state’s economic map. The business transformed a toehold in Ketchikan into the Plaza Port West shopping center, and the region’s first bonafide superstore. By the early 1990s, the Hames Corporation was earning around $40-million annually.
In 1993, on the same day that Hames opened a $1.7-million remodel of Sitka’s Market Center, the Alaska Pulp Corporation mill in Sitka announced it was closing, putting 400 people out of work. Four years later, the Ketchikan mill closed.
Hames said it was a turning point for the business.
“We made a conscious decision to regroup and put our eggs in one basket in Sitka. So what my parents put together in the 80s, I started dismantling in the 90s. It just kind of turned that way. But it was all economic conditions that pushed us into that decision.”
The Ketchikan Sea Mart was sold to the Carr-Gottstein chain in 1994. Eventually Hames sold all its Ketchikan plaza assets except for the New Town liquor store.
The Hames Corporation is smaller now, but Roger Hames told the chamber that he thinks it’s better off – and he’s better off. The Ketchikan years involved weekly travel that cost him important time with his own family.
Except for the Ketchikan store, the Hames Corporation is now just the two Sitka groceries and the two Cascade convenience centers. Still, that’s 141 employees, and a $3.75-million payroll. Hames wouldn’t disclose sales figures, except to say that the corporation collects $1.4 million in municipal sales taxes.
But being smaller doesn’t mean standing still. Hames said Sea Mart would launch a major remodel this year, and bring inside one of the Cascade liquor stores. It’s a $1.2-million dollar project that the business plans to do exclusively with local contractors. Like any grocer who tampers with a huge floor plan, Hames said he was braced for the inevitable.
“You know, one thing consumers hate – if I hear anything – it’s Please don’t move anything, I’ve just got it figured out. I’m sensitive to that. I know that. All I can say is I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But bear with us, because we haven’t changed anything in 15 years, and we’re just dying to do it again. And we still give free guided tours.”
Much as it was when the business was the C.R. Rands Co. in 1949, the Hames Corporation is still just two couples: Lloyd and Barbara Hames, and Roger and Mary Hames. The fourth generation of the family is active in the store, but Roger says he’s not pressing for any kind of commitment from his children.
“I’m not going to push a rope.”
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