Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 4:44 PM on Wednesday, August 3, 2011

VBS Heating opens new store

Specialty Stoves of Alaska finds home in Pioneer Avenue landmark


Like a lot of old Homer buildings, people know 248 W. Pioneer Ave. by many names depending on how long they've lived here. Old timers in the 1950s knew it as the Dufour building, a washeteria. In the 1960s, Harold Billups remodeled it and it became Homer City Hall, just in time for incorporation in 1964. In the 1980s, later arrivals knew the building as Homer Natural Foods and later Smokey Bay Natural Foods.

With a new paint job, a firmer foundation and remodeling inside, the building's old lines remain in its latest incarnation as Specialty Stoves of Alaska. The downtown showroom for VBS Heating Products' line of electric, oil, propane, wood and wood pellet stoves, Specialty Stoves opened last Tuesday.

Husband-and-wife team and owners Connie Cavasos and Mark Vial will hold a grand opening celebration from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday with a barbecue, giveaways and a grand prize drawing of a new Blaze King stove.

Discounts of 10 percent will be offered on most products. There also will be a silent auction for the old Smokey Bay Natural Foods sign painted by Brad Hughes, with proceeds going to the Homer Community Food Pantry.

Started in 1999 by Cavasos and Vial on Lakeshore Drive, VBS Heating Products sold a full line of home-heating devices out of its small showroom and shop. Although the Monitor line of oil heaters was discontinued in 2008, VBS will still repair and service Monitors at the Lakeshore Drive shop. As the business grew, Cavasos and Vial sought a more visible location and a larger showroom.

On their way home, Cavasos and Vial frequently drove by the old Smokey Bay Natural Foods, which has been for sale several years after the store went out of business. Both had the same idea of buying the building, but didn't say anything out loud. One day Vial finally told Cavasos that he had been thinking of buying the building, and she told him she had the same idea. Using their savings, they bought the place in March.

"The price was OK and the terms were great," Vial said.

"This location makes it easier to sell," Cavasos added.

Acting as their own general contractor, Cavasos and Vial remodeled the store over the spring. Because of the added weight of heavy stoves, first on the list was beefing up the foundation and floor joists and beams. With a Kachemak Bay view and southern exposure, the showroom displays Specialty Stoves of Alaska's line of Blaze King, Jøtul, Scan, Harman, Wittus Hearth Stone and Thelin brands.

From electric heaters to wood pellet stoves, the store offers options for an Alaska essential: keeping homes snug and warm in cold and chilly weather. Specialty Stoves also sells an infrared heated sauna, portable outdoor fire pits and a Wittus barbecue grill and fire pit that's also an elegant piece of outdoor sculpture.

New to the store's line are wood pellet stoves, like the one Specialty Stoves has to heat the place. An electric blower blasts heat out of the stove. One Wittus model can run on a backup 12-volt battery and work in cabins off the grid and powered by solar or wind power.

"That's why I got it," Vial said of the alternate-energy powered stove. "I thought it would be a good fit here."

Pellet stoves use a ground, dried wood product that looks like rabbit food. Sold in 40- or 50-pound bags, a bag will last about two days for heating a modest size, 1,500-square-foot home. The fuel is dumped in a hopper that holds about 50 pounds. Home Depot and Lowe's in Kenai sell pellet fuel for about 14 cents a pound. Vial said local stores may offer pellet fuel in Homer. According to figures from the American Pellet Fuels Institute, pellet fuel is competitive in price with fuel oil. An average home uses 6,000 pounds of pellet fuel a year, or about $840, not including freight.

"It's clean, renewable energy and it burns very clear," Cavasos said.

Both Cavasos and Vial have roots in Homer. Born in Anchorage, Vial spent part of his childhood here, going to third grade down the street from Specialty Stoves at the old Homer Elementary School. Vial had a gold mine for 20 years near Candle. Cavasos first came to Alaska in 1971 and settled in Homer in 1986. The couple met through mutual friends in Anchorage and Vial moved here in 1994 to marry Cavasos.

Specialty Stoves also sells fire-resistant hearth rugs, log carriers, ash buckets and other accessories.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.