A great many things have changed since 1969: the world, technology, the Kitsap Peninsula, Gig Harbor.
But The Beach Basket, a mainstay iconic retail store in Gig Harbor, has remained. Since 1969, The Beach Basket and the Schmidtke family have toiled through all the changes to keep their gift store consistent — friendly, affordable, traditional and innovative. It was the vision when Julian and Leslie Schmidtke opened the store, and it remains the vision today.
On Sept. 21, the public is invited to The Beach Basket to join the Schmidtke family in celebrating the 50th anniversary of this wonderful little gem of a store, located in downtown Gig Harbor. A celebration no one, least of all the Schmidtkes, would have dreamed of when they opened The Beach Basket in a 400-square-foot space.
“My parents are the heart and soul of this business,” their daughter, Kim Schmidtke-Stokke, says. “I have so much respect for what they built through the years.”
And the legacy is big. Generations of families have shopped at The Beach Basket, as well as five other stores the Schmidtkes have owned over the years. Today, families still come to introduce younger generations to the gift, clothing and Christmas shops.
“We have so many customers tell us they used to come here with their Grandma when they were a kid, and now they are starting the tradition with their grandchildren,” Stokke said.
That’s what 50 years of serving the community will do. That’s what the Schmidtkes have accomplished with their retail stores on the Kitsap Peninsula and King and Pierce counties since 1969.
When the tiny first shop opened in the Finholm neighborhood of Gig Harbor, it was an immediate hit. With baskets and beachy decor being the bread and butter of the store (well into the 1980s), the tiny space soon was expanded to 800 square feet. But within a year, Julian and Leslie Schmidtke saw the potential.
Gig Harbor was destined to grow and they had a vision that the small enclave could be a thriving tourism town, like many of the small, authentic tourism towns they had visited when the family spent a one-year sabbatical in Michigan.
So, the Schmidtkes jumped at the chance to purchase the former Austin Erickson sawmill and the adjoining family home on the corner of Harborview and North Harborview in 1970. Never ones to shy away from a challenge, the pair recruited family and friends to turn the open “shed” sawmill into an enclosed building and move the shop into 4,000 square feet. An addition to the south end of the building became the women’s clothing wing of the operation, and an addition to the north provided updated restrooms and storage.
Today, The Beach Basket houses a remarkable collection of whimsical, coastal and nautical items as well as candy, quality bath and body products, casual women’s sportswear and fashion accessories, garden décor, tchotchkes, Gig Harbor T-shirts, sweatshirts and other souvenirs.
The very popular Christmas Shop is located next door, in the former Austin family home. Originally the Christmas Shop was open seasonally in the attic, and the rest of the house was leased to other tenants. For many years, Means Ornamental Concrete occupied the basement. Then in 1986, the Schmidtkes purchased the old Peninsula Light building across the street (now the site of the Harbor History Museum) and opened The Beach Basket Garden and Wicker Center, and Means Ornamental Concrete moved across the street. This gave the Christmas Shop the opportunity to expand to the full 3,800 square feet of the old Austin Home, where it remains today. The Christmas Shop is a very successful part of the overall business, with September through December being the make-or-break months for the operation.
The family business opened several other stores throughout the decades, including at Tacoma Mall (1974-1989), Southcenter (1974-1994), University Place (1990-2005) and Evergreen Plaza/Lakewood (1988-2005). The downtown Tacoma store on K Street called the Basket Nook, purchased in 1977, is still operating and managed by son Mike Schmidtke.
In 1978, Julian Schmidtke left his Tacoma teaching job to join his wife full time in the burgeoning business. Stokke began working at the store after school when she was 13 and now along with her brother manages the majority of the operation. Her husband, Darren Stokke, managed the Beach Basket Garden Center from 1986 to 2006.
The long-term employees are a testament to the well-run operation, and many are approaching 20 years. One, Sally Lacadie, has worked at The Beach Basket for 35 years. Stokke praised the staff, saying, “We have had some wonderful employees over the years and appreciate every one of them that have worked hard to create an inviting atmosphere for our customers to shop.”
Even though the Schmidtkes, now in their 80s, are retired, it’s still all in the family for The Beach Basket enterprise. Working together as a family for 50 years might sound daunting to many people, but for the couple, it’s been positive.
“We get along great,” Julian Schmidtke says. “Sure, we have occasional disagreements, but everyone understands the business.”
And understanding the business means staying on top of changing trends and business practices, knowing what’s hot (Beanie Babies, Department 56 Houses and Annalee Dolls have all been huge collectible successes over the years) and what’s not. The team travels annually to the Las Vegas gift show, carefully choosing what they think their customer base will want for the year ahead.
“There is no magic solution to this business.” Schmidtke says. “You just try to keep on top of what the customer needs.”