When Shandon Graybeal first moved to West Seattle, she didn’t know any of her neighbors. Her life changed in 2016 when she opened her specialty gift shop, Alair. The store has been a labor of love for Graybeal, but she knew it was her dream — and it had to be in West Seattle. The location is part of the magic of her store, she says. She lives just four blocks away.
“People move here and they stay here,” Graybeal said. “We have a really cool neighborhood here, everybody really takes care of each other.”
Before moving to Seattle, the spunky Ohio-native had lived in many different cities, and she had become accustomed to bringing back gifts for her friends and family. She noticed that many of the stores she visited seemed to attract a community of adoring regulars. So, she drafted a business plan for her store, and she took a leap.
“That’s the scariest part of opening a business, just deciding to do it,” she said. “After you decide to do it, it’s just a checklist of what’s next and how to do it … It was nuts, but it was nuts in the best way.”
After taking the leap, her lovely little store has quickly become one of Seattle’s most visited gift shops. If you’re wondering what you’ll find there, the answer is ‘a little bit of everything.’ Intended to be a one-stop-shop for close friends and acquaintances alike, Graybeal has curated a collection of things that spark joy. When you walk in, you’ll find that she stocks an irresistibly smile-inducing array of greeting cards, candles, coffee mugs, t-shirts, books, accessories, and more. The store is always evolving, but the goods are always local.
“I always wanted to have local things,” Graybeal said. “I really believe in the community and I really believe in everybody working together and having those relationships, that’s the reason to do it. I really like knowing that if somebody buys this necklace, the girl down the street made it and she’s amazing. It’s being spent back in the community and I knew I wanted to do that.”
Graybeal’s desire to be an integrated facet of her beloved West Seattle community is at the core of everything she does, but she also added that sourcing locally has broader impacts.
“It’s being made, being flown across the world and putting all of the pollution in the air, and it’s still only two dollars? How can the person that’s making it be treated well?” Graybeal asked.
Year round, Alair is brimming with high-quality, locally made goodies, many of which are laugh-out-loud silly and sometimes include a ‘choice word’ or two. But rest assured, you’ll never find anything in her store that’s got anything “unkind” on it, as Graybeal puts it. That’s another big guiding factor for her curation, it has to be kind. You won’t see any name-calling or insults on her products.
Her standard rules-of-thumb aside, Graybeal trusts her gut when picking products. Many of her suppliers got their start in wholesale retail at Alair, and Graybeal was happy to help them learn the ropes. Now, she says many of their products have taken off.
Graybeal’s work resonates with the local community, who show their appreciation in a variety of ways. From bringing her homemade food on her birthday to something a bit more unexpected: placing custom orders.
“If they want a book, they will have me order it and they’ll wait for me to get it in and come in and pay full price because they don’t want the neighborhood to be filled with chains,” Graybeal said. “They understand the difference between complaining about chains and actually supporting small businesses. It’s really special.”
While exciting, Graybeal’s first few years at Alair haven’t been entirely easy. A few months after opening, she experienced a devastating robbery. Then, the following year, the store endured an unexpected move. Having braved the two back-to-back blows, continued economic turbulence is not ideal. Ultimately, though, her mission keeps her moving forward.
“There’s a lot of stores that are really cute stores but they’re not giving back and they’re not doing anything for the community,” she said. “I’ve been a big believer in growing responsibly, not just quickly and if you can’t find a way to do it responsibly, not doing it.”
It’s no surprise that Graybeal is also always supporting other local businesses. One of her favorites? Nearby Hawaiian-Korean fusion spot Marination Ma Kai.
“I always tell everyone that comes to town to go down to Marination,” she said. “It’s my favorite view in the city and they have really good tacos and kimchi fried rice.”
During the Coronavirus lockdown, Graybeal is still keeping busy with the store — just in a new way. New and old customers alike are ordering gifts and goodies from the Alair website, still opting to shop local from home. The store has also rolled out some new gift boxes. Customers can order a stay-at-home box that includes a game, candle, and a journal, but regulars opt for the Shannon pick-me-up box which she curates to their taste. Alair has also partnered with Viaduct to design a t-shirt and raise money for WestSide Baby COVID-19 relief efforts.
Alair’s gift concierge service continues to be available for those that would like a hand in selecting the perfect gift for a loved one. You can have the perfect gift shipped to your house or pick it up curbside in West Seattle. Above all else, Graybeal hopes that people continue to prioritize shopping local — even from a distance.
“When you shop local and shop things that are made local, all of that money is being sent right back to the community,” Grabeal said.
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