The Shopkeeper Chronicles: The Sentinel

The Shopkeeper Chronicles: The Sentinel

Dec 25, 2023

In Marfa, Texas sits an eclectic shop. It’s not just a retail shop. It’s also a coffee shop and community workspace. It’s called The Sentinel. It’s a shop founded by Max Kabat and his wife Maisie. Like most shop owners we’ve spoken with, Max and his wife didn’t set out to open a shop. In fact, they opened the shop to help fund their newspaper The Big Bend Sentinel, a 100-year-old local independent newspaper they purchased a few years ago when they moved from NYC to Marfa, Texas. We had the pleasure of chatting with Max about opening a multidisciplinary shop that’s become a pillar in the community. 

Why did you open The Sentinel? 

The premise of opening the shop was trying to figure out a way to diversify revenue streams to support The Big Bend Sentinel, a local independent newspaper. Since the paper is almost 100 years old, our idea was to lean into this concept of community, and opening a shop was the perfect way to do that. Additionally, Marfa has a significant tourism economy, so we knew the store would attract tourists. Ultimately, we took an asset that was a 100-year-old newspaper and 5x the top-line revenue by building a whole other business element around it. 

Tell us about the retail component of The Sentinel.

If you're for everybody, you're for nobody. And we 100% violate that. We are for everybody in some capacity. We sell $1 paper and $1,000+ dollar rugs, but all the money we make from the store supports wages and benefits for our journalists at the paper. 

People come into the store looking for different things including branded merchandise, pottery, and books. Our books do very well. We have a curated book selection on minimalist, modern art and about the city of Marfa. We also sell tons of pencils, paper, and pads.

How do you divide responsibilities with your wife? 

The responsibilities do blend together at certain points. I learned how to run the coffee counter at The Sentinel. I’ve since hired people to work the coffee counter, but I still remember locals’ coffee orders. Given this experience, I also have a better sense of the employee experience and what we need to look for when hiring.  My wife is in charge of the retail portion of our shop. She merchandises the products, buys products, and decides what we sell them for. 

Your store is open every day from 7:30AM - 3PM. How did you decide on those hours? 

Trial and error. There were years when we were also a full-fledged bar! Ultimately, we looked at the numbers and decided on these hours. We use Square and I know what our sales look like throughout the day. We used to be open 12 hours per day, and I looked at when we were the busiest vs. the slowest. 7:30 - 3PM is our sweet spot! 

But you do occasionally host dance parties. Are those during the day? 

The dance parties are at night. We host a few dance parties throughout the year, and people love them!

What advice would you give someone who wants to open up a shop? 

Competition abounds, so why does your store exist? Why your place instead of another? When you're opening a shop, you need to have a unique value proposition, and you need an idea. Don't just open a store because you think it might be interesting and it might work. Opening a store is like any other business, it's hard! Just make sure you know your reason for being is and lean into that.