Tina Ferringer and Bobbie Tarkiainen are best friends, sewing aficionados and co-owners of The Bag Ladies of Fairbanks. The store, located in Pioneer Park and open in the summertime, is crowded with hand-sewn goods made by the two friends and items made by local artisans.

The Bag Ladies of Fairbanks is a crowded space, full of souvenirs and handcrafted local goods. At the back of the store, customers can buy cafe items. The combination has worked out well for the store. “People come for food and they buy gifts,” Tarkiainen said. “And people who come for gifts buy food.”

Walking up the stairs, customers will find a variety of placemats and table runners in fabrics appropriate for all the major holidays.

The sourcing of the stock at Bag Ladies of Fairbanks is a point of pride for Ferringer and Tarkiainen. They walk through the aisles, occasionally pointing out the items they sewed personally, but they are just as proud to provide handknits, hot sauce, chocolates and other gifts made by artisans from Fairbanks and Alaska at large.

North Pole Coffee Roasting Co. contributes to the inventory, as well. They even make a special blend for Cabin No. 2: the Bag Ladies Blend. It’s described as “rich, high-grown Central and South American full city roast coffee.”

Ferringer and Tarkiainen were introduced to each other by their husbands. A weekend shopping trip to Anchorage in the 1990s cemented a friendship that’s lasted more than 20 years and has blossomed into a business partnership. “We realized we were kindred spirits,” Tarkiainen said.

The hobby became a large part of their lives, and they eventually decided to move from their craft rooms to craft fairs. “You can only make so many bags for yourself,” Tarkiainen said.

She went on to say that both she and Ferringer loved the creativity of their work and that watching others enjoy the items they made was gratifying.

They started doing craft fairs around the start of the new millennium and moved their business into a small cabin at Pioneer Park in 2003.

The pair were able to expand into the larger space in Cabin No. 2 in 2005. At the time, Ferringer was a teacher and Tarkiainen was a nurse — a part-time summer business fit their lifestyles well.

The business sold handbags exclusively at first, but expanded as customers made requests for other handmade items, like placemats, table runners and aprons.

“Just about anything you can sew,” Ferringer said.

While the business was originally conceived to sell handbags, sewing is the true driving force behind The Bag Ladies of Fairbanks. “That’s a big store — we had to fill it,” Ferringer said. “We knew we couldn’t make that many handbags.”

Which isn’t to say they aren’t producing a lot of bags. Each year, Ferringer and Tarkiainen set a goal: They will sew 100 bags, each, before the summer starts. According to Tarkiainen, they haven’t ever reached that goal, but not for lack of trying. They are sometimes slowed by learning new patterns, or by making other types of sewn goods. The friends sew as much as they can and sell the items over the summer. In the winter, they continue to participate in craft fairs and Christmas bazaars.

The pair also makes sleep masks, curling iron covers, placemats, napkins, table runners, bandanas for dogs and a variety of other goods, all in an assortment of fabrics. The pair can also make special orders on request.

The most popular hand-sewn items right now, outside of the handmade bags, are microwave bowl covers. These are very popular online and Ferringer and Tarkiainen are happy to follow the trend.

Tarkiainen learned how to sew when she was a fourth grader in Girl Scouts. Ferringer learned in high school but got into the habit more after she was married.

“I blame my husband for getting me into the sewing habit,” Ferringer said. “He bought me my first sewing machine.”

The joke’s on him, though — Ferringer taught her husband, Ken, how to sew and put him to work. His handmade rag quilts can be found upstairs near the bulk fabric. 

The sewing happens outside the store, though The Bag Ladies have occasionally done sewing demonstrations in the cabin. Both seem satisfied with how they’re spending their retirements.

“We didn’t quit working; we just changed professions,” Ferringer said.

“Now we’re just a couple of bag ladies,” Tarkiainen returned.

Tarkiainen had two pieces of advice for prospective business owners in Fairbanks. The first is to be aware that small businesses require a large time commitment. “If you’re not actively involved with your business, you’re less likely to be successful,” she said. Tarkiainen’s second piece of advice is to take a look at the Alaska Small Business Development Center website at AKSBDC.org to learn the legal requirements for opening a business for free.

The Bag Ladies of Fairbanks is located at Cabin No. 2 in Pioneer Park. The business can be reached at 907-455-1269. It is open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Contact Cheryl at 459-7572 or follow her on Twiter @FDNMCity.

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