Whether you come by land, air, or water, getting to Homer is an odyssey. All routes cross a region of extraordinary natural wonders. Then the town greets you like a giant pop-up card: forbidding mountains, alpine glaciers, dense evergreen forests, a fast-moving sea, the 4½-mile-long sand spit, and a thriving community.
Tina Day and her husband, Bob, used to drive four hours south from Anchorage to reach this secluded town. "One weekend, walking the beaches, we decided to move here," Tina says. With minimal hand-wringing, "we sold our home, quit our jobs, bought a house in Homer, and found new work."
Any regrets? Recently strolling out on the Homer Spit, near the legendary Salty Dawg Saloon, they could see the M/V Tustumena ferry sailing in, the sun setting behind the Mt. Augustine volcano above Kachemak Bay, and about 20 bald eagles overhead. "We almost had to pinch ourselves," Tina says.
Tina's extensive marketing background made her the ideal executive director for the Homer Chamber of Commerce. But such perfect job opportunities rarely present themselves in this town of 5,400 people who rely on seasonal tourism for their economic base. More typically, "you can live in Homer if you bring your job and your passion for this place with you," says Lisa Nolan. She came here full-time in 1988 and has developed three local restaurants―first Homestead, then Café Cups, and now the trendy Fat Olives. She and her business partner/husband, Tiny, revel in Homer's sophistication, lack of pretense, and fun.
"In Homer, we have 'black tie' events," Lisa says. "Fishermen show up in their Carhartts [rugged outerwear] coupled with top hats and canes. Tuxedo jackets are paired with T-shirts, and sequined dresses with mud boots."
The big lure for charter-fishing business/B&B owner Michael Coates, a Wisconsin native, is the outdoors. "I play hockey, ski, snowmobile, kayak, surf-kayak, boat, and fish―all within five miles of my house and mostly year-round," he says. To pad his off-season income, Michael drives a bus for local high-school activities.
"Homer inspires your dreams, but it takes a great deal of tenacity to live here," says Asia Freeman, director of the Bunnell Street Gallery. "My husband and I have five different jobs between us [art, teaching, B&B, construction, and property management]." Moving from the San Francisco area, Asia's artist parents settled here when she was 6. "They weren't interested in the kitschy, crafty arts commonly found in Alaska," she says. "Instead, they invited visiting artists, poets, musicians, and writers. They helped make this a destination for artists and collectors." After attending Yale University art school and traveling the world, Asia returned to Homer.
"We still juggle a lot to survive," she says. "But we have this fantastic seasonal drug called the sun. It charges us up every summer, when it's hard to sleep in the long daylight hours. It keeps us wired all winter."
(published July 2007)