By Don Nelson
Brian and Amy Sweet always intended to return to the Methow Valley. Now the former owners of Trail’s End Bookstore are back, launching their third business venture in a long-vacant, prominently positioned Winthrop storefront.
The Sweets purchased the Grubstake & Co. building on Riverside Avenue, once the site of a restaurant (and before that, the Winthrop post office) but closed and on the market for many years. They are currently stripping the building down to its core, and will expand and remodel the space for an all-season outdoor gear and clothing store.
Cascades Outdoor Store is scheduled to open in June 2014, occupying about 2,000 square feet – twice the building’s current size. It will extend to about where the flagpole next to Winthrop Town Hall is now.
Last weekend, the Sweets were ripping materials off of and out of the building – giving some of it away, keeping some for the renovations, and throwing away the rest in a big garbage bin along on the street.
The Sweets had some architectural design help, and local builder Larry Miller will do the construction, but they are doing much of the tool-intensive, hands-on work of demolition – and giving the re-usable materials away to anyone who shows up and claims them.
“We want to get rid of everything useable,” Amy said. “We want to give it all away.”
Among others, Dave Sabold showed up last Saturday with a crowbar to pry loose decking planks that he will use to build a trellis on his farm near Winthrop. Amy said she fielded a steady stream of calls about salvageable materials after posting an online bulletin board notice.
Of course, there are similar retail outlets in the valley, including Winthrop Mountain Sports, The Outdoorsman and Methow Cycle & Sport in Winthrop, and Jack’s Hut and Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies at Mazama. The Sweets said they intend to offer some different brands and goods, and believe there is room enough in the market for everyone because of the Methow’s growing popularity as a recreation destination.
They said they’ve noticed much more activity in the valley at this time of year than they saw when they lived here before. “It’s crazy how many more people are coming here,” Amy said.
“More stores sends a message” to tourists that the Methow is a vital place that they will want to visit, Brian said.
“We feel good about opening a store and getting something going in the community,” Brian said.
“This is our creative outlet,” he added. “And we will have local people in mind when we pick out what will be carrying.”
The store is already formed and three-dimensional in the Sweets’ minds. “We can see it all,” Brian said.
The feel of the place will be crucial to its success, they said. For instance, the Sweets have ordered special wide planking for the floors to help create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
“When you walk in, it will be ‘clump, clump, clump’ and your shoes will squeak,” Brian said.
Series of adventures
After getting married in 2000, the Sweets discovered the Methow Valley while looking for a spot to settle. “We wanted to find Colorado like it was 20 years ago,” Brian said. “Everything we had was in the back of our mini-van.”
In 2003, the Sweets bought the Trail’s End Bookstore – then in a different location. A couple of years later they moved the store to its current location on Riverside Avenue, determined to focus on local customers and their reading habits – with plenty of selections for visitors as well.
When they sold the bookstore to Ken Libby and Julie Tate-Libby in 2010, the Sweets went on a series of adventures – a bike ride across the country, which was then extended overseas from Portugal to Ukraine, and a stint teaching English in China – and then became aware of a small “dying” bakery for sale in Jackson, New Hampshire. It’s a tiny, tourism-driven community much like the Methow Valley, they said.
They learned to bake in bulk – “it’s hard to make a small batch now,” Amy said – and built up the bakery business by full immersion in the community. When they decided to sell, an actual baker bought the place within two months.
Then came the full-length hike of the Appalachian Trail, during which they paid close attention to the clothes and gear other hikers were using. They saw lots of brands they’d never heard of, Brian said.
The Sweets say they always planned a return Methow – they kept their home here, and own the Trail’s End Bookstore space, while the bookstore business has since been sold to the Janikowski family.
After the Appalachian trek, they began scouting potential properties here. The Grubstake & Co. building – coincidentally, once operated as a restaurant by the Libbys – was available and suited their needs, they say.
“We needed a project and were hoping for a good site,” Brian said.