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Smithereen Stories: Country Chic for Small Town Streets

by Malcolm Johnson

Caroline Marko of Salt Boutique shares her thoughts on the best of Smithers and what makes this little town a great place to be.

There’s lifestyle, and there’s a life of style, and they’re not always the same. But over the years in Smithers, Caroline Marko has learned to celebrate both.

The founder and owner of the elegantly minimalist Salt Boutique here in Smithers, Caroline was born and raised in Sweden. Then, on a backpacking trip in Mexico, she met her future husband—Smithers builder Scott Marko, whose family goes back for
generations in the Bulkley Valley.

“Scott came and lived with me in Copenhagen for a year and a half,” she remembers, “but he was like, ’It’s too flat, it’s too full of people. I need to go home to the mountains.’”
“It wasn’t an easy transition,” she continues, “because I’d been a city girl all my life, and I got thrown right into this tiny town in the north. I thought I’d end up in Paris, or New York maybe, so it took a little getting used to. But now that I’ve lived here for 23 years or
so, I know my kids are so lucky to have grown up in this environment. The lifestyle is just so good here.”

Ever since it opened, Salt has brought a dash of contemporary, fashion-forward style to a town where flannel, work pants and cleanish Blundstones still count as haute couture. This spring, Caroline and her husband completed work on a new location across Main Street from her old shop. It’s a beautiful space stocked with a lovingly curated selection of clothing and jewelry from independent Canadian and European brands.

“I never really know how to describe the style that catches my eye,” she says, “but I guess it’s country chic or farmer chic, and always quality over quantity.”

Since the new Salt is one of the highlights of Smithers’ thriving downtown, we sat down with Caroline to hear more of her story—and what she’s come to love about her adopted home.

How did your love of fashion and style begin?

I didn’t think it would be in Smithers, but I’ve always known this was the path I’d take. My grandfather was a tailor, my mom’s a designer, and I went to school for four and half years to become a classically trained tailor. And I’m not a person that can just sit on my hands, so once our kids started school I was looking for something new to do, and a shop like Salt didn’t exist in Smithers at the time. It was a bit of gamble, but I went for it, and I did it in a way that stayed true to my background and my Scandinavian heritage.

What do you look for when you’re curating your selection?

I’m all for quality, and I’m a bit of a minimalist, so that’s where the Salt feel has really come from. I like clean lines, not overworked pieces, and I’m striving for uncomplicated. Also, one of the perks of being in a small community like this is that when I find
something I like, I’ll picture who exactly it might be for. I’ll love the fabric or the length, and I’ll have a certain customer in mind. It doesn’t mean I’ll hunt them down, but it’s fun thinking about who might want a specific piece.

What else makes Smithers a unique place for Salt to be?

People are pretty open-minded now, and Smithers isn’t just a hidden gem anymore, it’s this flourishing diamond in the North. I think people live here because they love the lifestyle, they love the mountains, and they love that we have so many quality-oriented
things here. For such a small town, whether it’s in craftsmanship, or services or merchandise, we have a great selection of quality wares. I’ve always thought you don’t need a ton of things, you just need great things, and Smithers is going in that direction too. Our little Main Street is amazing, and it’s such a rare thing. There’s nothing else like it when you drive up from Vancouver, and that comes from encouraging local small business and taking pride in the downtown core. It’s like that saying—you don’t have to
be small town just because you live in a small town.

With the new Salt, what were you striving for in terms of design?

I have a very set aesthetic, and I really know what I like. My husband and I worked on the building together, and he’s a miracle worker and really translated it into what you see. I’ve collected a lot of weird stuff over the years for this—all the light fixtures and tables, we have a Tibetan monk’s bed, we have chairs on the walls. When we found a plot of land downtown it was an opportunity to give those things a place to live, and I also wanted it to reflect how I feel about clothes—something that was classic, aesthetically pleasing and would last forever. Luckily for me I had just the right guy to do it. And Scott is a true Smithereen too—he was born and raised here, his great-grandfather was up the mountain chopping down trees and setting up a tow rope. So for him to have built this beautiful building on Main Street is a part of his legacy.

When you’re talking to people in the shop about their trips here, what are some of the things you recommend?

Ha! I should probably be working for Tourism Smithers. We’ll always talk to people about their plans when they’re in. If they’re staying for lunch, I’ll say go to Two Sisters, or if you’re staying for dinner go over to Roadhouse—they have a killer wine list and killer fried chicken. And it makes me so proud that we have so many great things and shops here, so we’ll send people to go check out all the different stores on Main Street and around town. Or if they have a couple of hours and want to do an easy hike, I’ll say go out to Glacier Gulch and go up to Twin Falls—almost everybody can do it, it’s right there, and it’s just so beautiful.

You can follow Caroline and Salt Boutique on Instagram @saltboutiquesmithers.

photo of Malcolm Johnson

Malcolm Johnson grew up on Vancouver Island. A writer and creative director, he's now raising his family here in the Bulkley Valley, where his wife was born and raised.

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