Name of Company: Brigham Fish Market in Cascade Locks, Oregon
Owner: Kim Brigham Campbell, 41
How long in business: Just opened in February
Advice for other business owners: “So many amazing people helped me along the way with applications, business plans, loans and direction. Most of these were people who didn't know me, but wanted me to succeed.”
Kim Brigham Campbell has been hooked on fish for as long as she can remember. Both her grandfather and father made their living off the bounty of the Columbia River, selling fresh salmon, sturgeon and other fish du jour right out of their ice-packed coolers or “mobile” fish markets, you could say.
Now the 41-year-old member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation is continuing the family’s 60-year fishing tradition as the owner and operator of the very first fish market in Cascade Locks, Oregon, called Brigham Fish Market, fittingly named after her well-known and respected clan.
“People have bought fish from us for years and saw me grow up as a child. Now they are my buyers, and I take care of them,” she said proudly.
With an investment of about half a million dollars — “We cashed out our 401K, secured a $300,000 loan and borrowed money from my parents” — Brigham Campbell and her husband, James Campbell, built a 2,000-square-foot building from the ground up, carving out a 500-square-foot retail space for customers and a 12-foot display case. The couple also invested in a vacuum sealer and commercial smoker that can hold up to 500 pounds of fish at once.
Nearly the entire catch at Brigham Fish Market comes from the bountiful Columbia River, although Brigham Campbell buys fish, such as halibut and cod, from a local restaurant supply house from time to time. Customers can get fresh fish in season—raw, smoked or canned. “We also sell smoked salmon dip and clam chowder,” said the hard-working entrepreneur, who continues to work as a cosmetologist on the side, a career she has enjoyed for nearly 20 years.
As is the case with many start-ups, Brigham Campbell said business has slowed down a little since a very robust — and memorable — opening a little more than a month ago. “I opened during a blizzard. We had a bad ice storm, but I needed to get my doors open, so we did it.” Despite the bad weather, the community came out in droves. “We had such great support; it was amazing! And we made about $1,700 that day, which I thought was great for a small town.”
Unfortunately for this fish monger, the number of fish available to sell commercially may not be as high as she would like this upcoming season — especially the “primo” spring salmon. “It doesn’t look like the run coming back from the ocean is going to be big enough.” Brigham Campbell said that tribes get first dibs on Columbia River’s fish for ceremonies and subsistence. Then whatever is left can be sold to the public.
“If we do get some spring salmon [to sell commercially], it will be caught by me, my dad, sister, uncle and cousins.”
In fact, Brigham Campbell is quick to credit any success she has had so far to her family and an army of volunteers. “I don’t feel like I did this on my own,” she said. “I can’t stress enough the support that I have. I have volunteers at night, and kids will come over after school to sweep and mop.”
To date, she doesn’t have anyone on the payroll — yet. “My husband, sister and I are running it. Until I can get this off the ground and start paying people, it’s all volunteers. And I am so grateful for that!”
So what has been the most difficult part of this new venture for Brigham Campbell? “Probably the finances. You feel like you have enough, but there always seems to be just one more bill to pay. …We’re learning by trial and error. For instance, we estimated our permit fees to be about $500. They ended up being $10,000.”
Brigham Campbell said her prices are competitive with other fish options in town, but she is rethinking that. “I need to put more value on our native fish. If you put a higher value on that and it helps people prosper and make a better living for their families, then I’m all for it.”
Lynn Armitage is an entrepreneur and small business owner in Northern California. She is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.