Riding the Wave into Retail

tent sign
How the heck did we make this dream happen?
If you're walking along Alki Avenue SW near 59th and see this sign, come up and say hi!

Alki is Seattle’s favorite beach, and although thousands of visitors flock here each year, branded items have been hard to find. We saw an opportunity to fill a need, and that's when we decided to move from online to brick and mortar.

Today Alki Surf Shop has a ton of Alki-branded merchandise (clothing, souvenirs, consumables), with more Genuine Alki shirts and hoodies than anywhere else on Earth. Due in part, to a little bit of luck.

In May of 2014, thanks, to our neighbor, Sandi Bender, we came upon a rare opportunity to rent a retail space right in the heart of Alki Beach. And so the birth of our store began.

We change up this display to show different merchandise. It must work because customers buy things right off the mannequin.

Neither David nor I have a lot of retail experience. I worked at several stores in high school and college. David was a copywriter for Nordstrom, and worked on many local and national advertising campaigns throughout his career in advertising.

As a graphic designer and ad guy, we have been tasked with positioning and branding for clients over the course of the past few decades, so we had the skills needed. Many people who start stores have to hire people like us. So that has been a big advantage.

But it took more than design and marketing skills to get started. We gutted the space and rebuilt it from the concrete up, redesigning the floor plan, designing and constructing all of the built-in fixtures, and completely envisioning and executing the interior design.

How did we know how to do this stuff?

We’ve purchased and rebuilt four homes together. We learned by doing.

The store required hundreds of hours of work, with huge contributions of time and energy by my family. But the end result was worth it. Yesterday two former tattoo customers came in and exclaimed, “OMG — This was the tattoo shop? It looks so different! It’s beautiful!”

Having created a great selling space, we needed to establish wholesale accounts with suppliers and distributors, and order new merchandise. But in addition, we had to think about what we would need to function from a business communications standpoint.

We needed a bracelet display but the only ones we saw were boring or cheap. David made this out of bamboo and scrap wood left over from the store construction.

Shortly after we signed our lease in May, I flew to San Francisco for the Verizon Influencer’s Summit. In addition to a treasure trove of goodies, Verizon gave all of us a very generous gift – a Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet.

Nokia Lumina Tablet
Staying connected

For our small store, the 2520 became a lifeline to the outside world. We are able to update our spreadsheets (stored in the cloud), stay in touch with suppliers and customers, and search for information on the web.

Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet — lifeline to the outside world

Here’s a recent example: We discovered people like to come in and simply hang out in our store, but there was nowhere for them to sit. We have two barstools behind the counter, which we were offering to people, but what we really needed was a couple of “guest barstools.” We were able to comparison shop while taking care of business, finding the best local source. From our web searches, we were able to call and verify the chairs were in stock before picking them up.

Sunglasses have been a popular item here. Notice the #vzwbuzz sweatshirt, and the 2520 in the background? Technology is a beautiful thing. I just have to say to myself, “Ain’t life grand?”

We keep the 2520 here at the store, and I love that it has made it possible for me to write this post. Like the Lumia Icon smartphone, the tablet is also beautifully designed and has a terrific camera. I think the durable nylon folio case is one of the most elegant of any I’ve seen for a tablet, and it offers great functionality with a built-in keyboard and track pad. The nylon exterior offers a wonderful tactile experience and folds down to next to nothing. Mine is the best color: RED!

As our adventure here at Alki Surf Shop continues, we will keep learning. That’s one of the great things about turning your life upside down – it completely rearranges everything as you knew it, and forces you to see things through new eyes. It may be crazy, but it's the kind of insanity a person can easily learn to love.

On that note, it seems fitting to end with a quote from our website alkisurfshop.com:

“We, the people, prefer our toes in the sand, rather than our shoes in a cubicle. We stand in favor of surf, sand and sun. We think fish and chips are an essential food group. And we proudly show our style with Genuine Alki tops.


Written on, and photos shot with the Nokia Lumia 2520 with thanks to Verizon Wireless.

Our sincere thanks to Momo Seattle, Nena Gifts Seattle, and Casita International for generously sharing their experiences, advice and wisdom as we put our business together.

Story and Photos © 2014 Terri Nakamura

Click the link below to experience a 360° virtual tour of our store: http://on.bubb.li/274389a3j16zhyk22uss6j0


  1. It's great talking to you on Twitter.

    Wishing you great success with the shop!

    1. Hi David!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment, and especially for your good wishes!

      The shop is a rush!

      Isn't social media amazing and fun? I'm following you on Twitter and look forward to crossing paths soon!

      Thanks again!

      All the best,


  2. Congrats on your opening, all the best. May you be surrounded in abundance

    1. Hi, Gary!

      Many thanks for the encouraging words! I, too hope all of our time and energy will be rewarded!

      Wishing you a fabulous weekend, and thank you for the comment!

      Best regards, Terri

  3. Replies
    1. Erik, thanks for the good wishes. Cheers/Terri

  4. Terri, Congratulations and best wishes to you and David

    1. Dear Stephen,

      Thank you for reading and commenting, and wishing us well. We are so grateful for the support we are receiving, and know the positive energy helps!

      All the best to you in your life and work!



  5. Looks amazing. I admit as a South Texas kid, I would never have considered surfing in Seattle. Off Galveston, Port Bolivar, or even down the coast at Corpus...Seattle must take a special breed...but that is often true of surfers. Good luck and best wishes with your endeavor.

    1. Hi, Harold!

      Thank you for the terrific comment.

      Just so you know, there is no surfing here in Seattle. Just skim boarding and stand-up paddle boarding, although there have been a few really crazy people who have surfed when there are big waves during storms! (I think they wear wet suits).

      Surfers are definitely a different breed of people, and we've discovered we love their relaxed view of the world.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I'm very grateful for the feedback and support.

      Warm regards, Terri

  6. Anonymous7:58 PM

    T, Let me know if this is what u are talking about. Using Facebook to comment, and using this space to reply. Your endeavor ROCKS!
    Ellen Dickens Angus

    1. Ellen, thanks for the comment!

      Yes, I was saying it was great to see your feedback on Facebook, and how much I'd appreciate having it posted here on the blog!

      The endeavor will remain in its infancy for the coming months. The true test will be if we can generate interest during the winter when Alki is returned to the residents and the tourists vanish.

      It would be cool for you to see it if you are ever in Seattle again. For a tiny space, it has a nice vibe!

      ((HUGS)) and thanks for making the effort to post here!

      Love ya, Terri

  7. Anonymous8:14 PM

    The part about typing in the letters so you know I am not a robot is disturbing. Do robots blog? If they do, why must a robot identify itself? Pondering...Sending hugs and kisses from California to Seattle, WA Ellen Dickens Angus...now I predict I will need to take the robot test to publish...here goes!

    1. Ellen, I'm sorry it was disturbing to you. It looks like the robot test decided to post both comments :)

      It's pretty common for blogs to request the typing in of random letters and numbers because spammers will often utilize automation to post spammy link-laden comments on blog posts to get the links back to their sites. It improves SEO and visibility, and there is always a possibility some random person who sees a spam comment, will inadvertently click on one of their links (not a good idea).

      Again, my thanks for BOTH comments, and for being such an awesome friend. I'm glad we reconnected after several decades!

      ((HUGS)) Terri

  8. Congrats to you and Dave for finally making this happen. I know what a huge effort this type of project entails. Lynn & I will probably be stopping by next week, since we're dog-, bunny- and chicken-sitting at our daughter's place in Burien. Cheers!
    PS - Have you really been doing all this replying at 2am? :-)

    1. Hi, Rick!

      Thanks so much for reading and for the comment!

      Yup, we did it! And it's really great that you understand what we've been going through, because the great majority of our friends (nearly all!) really don't have a clue.

      It would be great to have you and Lynn stop by. I've often heard David mention your name and I remember briefly seeing you guys at the Tin Room on Mother's Day, so it'll be nice to have a chance to chat!

      And finally, yes, that is really me replying at 2 AM!



  9. Sounds like alot of fun and hard work. I respect that you are broadening your horizons and stepping out of your comfort zone Terri.

    I saw the interactive 360 deg preview and site. Looks quite manageable for now and the location looks fantastic!

    Best of luck with your endeavors T, I am certain y'all will do just fine!

    1. Dear Ahad,

      Sincere thanks for reading and for leaving a comment here.

      Yes, the store is an incredible amount of work. But David and I are passionate about creating a successful venture. Bootstrapping it means we are fully invested in seeing it all come to fruition.

      The 360° view was made quite a while ago, and we try to change it up frequently to maintain interest of our returning customers.

      Thank you for your good wishes, Ahad. They mean a lot!

      ((HUGS)) Terri


Post a Comment


i'm a graphic designer who loves words. - terri nakamura