Homer’s NOMAR has been producing and providing fishing gear and other outdoor gear and clothing for their shop in Homer for more than four decades.
NOMAR, celebrating its 45th year in 2023, was started by Ben and Kate Mitchell as Mitchell’s Marine Canvas in a school bus located in the Homer Boat Yard.
Commercial salmon fishermen needed gear to transfer and store salmon in their drift-boat fish holds and Kate Mitchell was able to provide that based on her skills as a seamstress.
From there, the business moved into a Quonset hut and is now based in the center of Homer on Pioneer Avenue in the building that once housed Proctor’s Grocery. The building has been remodeled to include a second floor to expand industrial sewing operations that was finished in October 2021, Kate Mitchell said.
The business also maintains a contract with NASA that started in about 2017 to provide brightly colored gear that can be viewed and retrieved from the water. The second story addition to the building added 7,000 square feet to the business.
The Mitchells knew they wanted an expansion and considered operating a larger sewing facility in another location but decided to upgrade the building in town so that they could keep the manufacturing and marketing in one location, she said.
The increase in the business inevitably added an increase in employees and they are still dealing with the changes entailed. The Mitchells still own the NOMAR real estate but have since sold the business to their children, Richard Mitchell and Jennifer Hakala.
Kate Mitchell published a memoir, “The Bag Lady at the End of the Road,” in 2018. The book shares her observation of what it was like to start and grow the business in Homer that was based on her skills as a seamstress.
“I remember when Jim Manley, the owner of Manley Terminal, the freight operation in Homer in 1978, came into that school bus and said to me, ‘We need this business in this community. I hope you will stay!’ And, he would bring me something almost every week that need a repair to keep that school bus shop open.”
Much of the gear that Mitchell worked on during her time in the school bus setting was marine gear that people needed repaired or recycled. She said she appreciated the value that people had in repairing gear instead of just throwing used material away and creating new products.
“The fishermen needed help with their gear and I had a sewing machine. They were always our baseline, the little projects were always really important for us. The role for repairs are still our bread and butter,” she said.
NOMAR plans to host a community party some time before the end of the year to celebrate the anniversary.
Mitchell said there many people in the fishing community and some of fish marketing and supply businesses in town that got their start around the same time that NOMAR in 1978. She said the company wants to make sure to include some of the people who are still part of the local marine trades today.
Current co-owner Jennifer Hakala said she and her brother eased into management of the business for many years. She said it has been a transition but things are going well. Hakala says business at NOMAR is always increasing but the increase always depends on how the previous fishing seasons have gone.
“Clientele always shifts. When fishing is up, that is proportionately our largest clientele. This fall we are seeing a shift down in that department. When fishing is down, fishermen spend less money. But we have government contracts, people who are always replacing jackets when they wear out. We do a lot of custom boat canvas. We were down for a few years in that department but it has built back up,” Hakala said.
The company also supplies wholesale products for various merchants around the state of Alaska including Petersburg Shipwrights, Alaska Mill and Feed, 49th Street Brewing and Salmon Sisters. Those products include bags and clothing. The orders from merchants like that are not necessarily consistent, Hakala said.
There are currently 25 people employed at NOMAR.