The growth of local Flagstaff businesses

NAU student, Shannon Cowan, working at the Salt and Peak Boutique in downtown Flagstaff, Nov. 23.

Flagstaff is home to a wide variety of one-of-a-kind, local establishments that range from restaurants to boutiques. Establishments such as these can especially be found in downtown Flagstaff. These establishments helped build Flagstaff’s unique culture as they grew from smaller seedlings of businesses to what they are now.

Salt and Peak Boutique, which was created by NAU alumna Erica Borunda, has been a part of downtown Flagstaff since 2017. On top of owning Salt and Peak, Borunda teaches first grade at Knoles Elementary School.

Borunda said she has been selling her boutique products online since 2011, and that they represent the ocean and mountains, which are her two favorite landscapes. She was inspired to create the company after her son was born in 2011.

“I couldn’t find anything I liked to decorate his room with, so I created my own designs,” Borunda said. “It was addicting to make and sell things that people bought and loved, so I learned how to make candles, and bath and body products shortly after that.”

When Borunda first opened the boutique store, she faced challenges regarding her schedule as both a teacher, full-time business owner and shop clientele. She said she hardly had time to spend with her kids at first and that she didn’t know who the shop’s customers were going to be, so she felt that she was basically flying by the seat of her pants.

Borunda said Salt and Peak Boutique overcame these challenges once she returned to teaching after an eight-month break and handed the business over to employees to run during the day. She said this helped them financially and allowed her more time to spend with her children.

Borunda picked Flagstaff as the location for her business after she and her family moved back to the area in 2016.

“It just felt right when we moved up here that opening a storefront would be the next step,” Borunda said. “It’s small enough where you can have a footprint, and downtown is such a beautiful spot, popular with tourists.”

Borunda said her family is very supportive of her, especially her husband, when she feels overwhelmed. She said that he helps with the store by pouring candles, works in the shop and helps her with their children. She also said that she has had friends and family run the storefront during busy times and that her mother helps clean and organize when she comes to visit.

Salt and Peak carries a wide variety of handmade items for customers to enjoy. They have numerous candles and soaps, which are their number one seller, for customers to choose from. Borunda said they also added a “make your own candle station” in which customers can create their own candle in the container of their choice before picking it up a few hours later. She also said their customers are the foundation of the business.

Another establishment that got its start here in Flagstaff is Corvette’N America, which has been a part of Flagstaff since 2004 after Dwayne Bublitz and his wife came up with the idea to host tours for Corvette enthusiasts.

Bublitz said he has lived in Flagstaff his entire life and that his parents owned a Route 66 motel when he was younger. The motel inspired the creation of Corvette’N America since his parents would tell him about the joys of owning a business and being their own boss.

When the company first opened, Bublitz said they faced a variety of challenges.

“Corvette owners had no idea what Corvette’N America Tours was,” Bublitz said. “Most had never heard of Corvette tours since our company was the first to offer them. We were also concerned about attendance since most Corvette owners live more than a day’s drive from Flagstaff.”

He said the company overcame these challenges through persevering and constantly believing in the product they had created.

Bublitz’s family is also actively involved in the business. His daughters, Kirsten, an NAU junior, and Faith, an NAU sophomore, as well as his parents, have contributed to every tour the company had hosted.

“My daughters help with advertising and marketing,” Bublitz said. “Kirsten has written email blasts and Faith has done all our videos. My parents follow at the back of the tours to make sure our participants all stay together.”

Bublitz said they have completed close to 40 tours while hosting Corvette enthusiasts from across the United States and the world. He said he was inspired to create the company due to his love of the classic car and his desire to show people the scenery of the U.S. The tour company has even been featured in Autotrader Classics magazine, as well as “Samantha Brown’s Great Weekends” on the Travel Channel.

“We offer customers a first class touring experience without the hassle of planning where to stay, eat and what roads to travel,” Bublitz said.

Corvette’N America offers two tours a year, one in June and one in September. The tours offered by the company include the Yellowstone and Teton, Route 66, Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains, as well as National Park tours.

Bublitz said he wanted to provide customers with a safe and comfortable environment while also giving them the feeling that they are going on vacation with their family.

A third business that has roots in Flagstaff is The McMillan Bar and Kitchen, which opened in July 2014. It is currently run by General Manager Leah Thistle, who has been working at The McMillan for almost four years.

Thistle said the building that houses The McMillan was built in 1886 and is the oldest standing building in Flagstaff. When it was first built, the lower part of the building served as a bank while the upper section was a hotel.

“The McMillan was named after Thomas McMillan,” Thistle said. “He owned the building and was one of Flagstaff’s first permanent settlers in the 1870s.”

Thistle said the current owners, who also own The Vig in Phoenix, wanted to keep the historic look of the building to give it some Flagstaff charm. The restaurant even coined some menu items after the building’s namesake, as well as more of Flagstaff’s historical figures.

She also said the establishment houses a vintage arcade that features classic games such as Frogger, Mortal Kombat and Pac-Man.

The McMillan offers customers a wide array of food items ranging from Mexican to pad thai. Thistle said they also offer numerous specials throughout the week, all of which can be found on their website.

When it comes to helping the community, The McMillan holds a community tap handle every month. During this event, they pick a beer from a brewing company to feature on tap for the month. For every pint purchased of the selected brewery’s beer, they will donate $1 to $2 to a local nonprofit.

Thistle said when customers come in, she wants them to have a fun time, enjoy delicious food, enjoy the history and receive impeccable service.

These three unique Flagstaff businesses all have roots planted within the mountain town and can appeal to a variety of interests. The stores’ roots demonstrate that each offers customers something they might not be able to find elsewhere, whether it be a handmade gift or a piece of local history.