Local plumbing business served Methow Valley for nearly 30 years

Photo by Ashley Lodato
Dwight and Annie Filer closed their plumbing business in Twisp on Aug. 25.

By Ashley Lodato

When Dwight and Annie Filer removed the Filer Plumbing sign from the plumbing shop on Second Avenue in Twisp last Friday (Aug. 25), it was a momentous day for many reasons.

First, as Dwight was quick to point out, it was the last day for those 62 and older to purchase the lifetime Interagency Senior Pass from the Forest Service for $10 (the price will increase on Aug. 28, but our local forest service office is closed on Aug. 26 and 27). Conveniently, Aug. 25 was Dwight’s 62nd birthday — eligibility just in the nick of time.

But even more significant is the closing of a Methow Valley mainstay business that opened its doors 29 years and four months ago.

Dwight says that he never envisioned himself owning a plumbing business. After college, Dwight moved to the Methow Valley — part of the sixth generation of a long line of Methow Valley Filers — to work for the U.S. Forest Service, which is where he met Annie. But he soon realized that he didn’t want a government job.

“I’d always had an interest in the trades and working with my hands,” Dwight says, “but there were already enough carpenters and electricians in the valley to answer all the needs.” So Dwight explored plumbing and eventually apprenticed to Shaw Plumbing in Chelan. He liked it immediately. “So I got my license and hung out my shingle,” he says.

Filer Plumbing has always been a partnership, say both Dwight and Annie, despite Dwight being the face of the operation. “She’s my boss,” he jokes of Annie, quickly adding, “This is absolutely a 50 percent partnership. I never would have stayed self-employed if Annie hadn’t held up her half of the business.” Annie’s half includes the office, the books, and the management of fixture packages with customers, while Dwight does the on-site plumbing work.

A plumber who Dwight volunteered with in his exploratory stage of plumbing gave the Filers some advice that both say they are infinitely glad they heeded. “Keep it small,” the man told them. And they did.

Keeping it small

Keeping the business small, Annie explains, means that Dwight did every Filer Plumbing job. “We can uphold a standard with Dwight doing the work,” says Annie. “And our name is on the business. We feel proud of our work, and that would have been harder if we had expanded and taken on a crew.”

That first summer of business was nerve-wracking, say the Filers. “We weren’t in the phone book and there was no internet in 1988,” says Dwight, “so we just went around town and handed out business cards.” But there were many new houses being built in those years and Filer Plumbing’s schedule soon filled up.

The Filers’ intent was always to focus on service and repair, rather than new construction. It took nearly 25 years, however, before Filer Plumbing was able to give up new construction entirely and focus on service and repair, which is what Filer Plumbing has specialized in for the past five years. “Those were five really satisfying years,” says Dwight. “I never lacked for work and it was all pretty interesting.”

Dwight kept the work interesting in other ways, too, such as working stints at research stations in places like Greenland, the South Pole and Alaska’s Brooks Range. “You can take a trade like this anywhere,” Dwight points out. Although he is officially retiring, Dwight still entertains the possibility of doing occasional work at other remote locations. “I’d really like to work at Palmer Station [Antarctica],” he says. “Work like that is really interesting and challenging.”

Those in the plumbing business see and hear their fair share of unusual things, but one memory that stands out for Dwight is a job he did for Bart and Velma Bradshaw about 22 years ago, fixing the kitchen sink.

“So I’m under the sink working,” Dwight says, “and I’m pretty sure I’m alone in the house, but I keep hearing a woman’s voice saying ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’”

“So I get up and look around, but no one is there. But the minute I get back under the sink I hear it again. ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’”

The process repeated several more times until Dwight finally realized that there was an African grey parrot in a cage in the corner of the room. Every time Dwight went back under the sink, the parrot professed its love for Dwight.

Dwight was so tickled by his discovery that he used the Bradshaws’ home phone  and called Annie, then left the phone off the hook while he went back under the sink just so she could hear the parrot.

Other activities

Dwight has also led a noteworthy civic life. He has twice served on the Twisp Town Council, and has also been a member of the planning commission and parks and recreation committee. He has also been chairman of the town’s Tree Board, which assumes stewardship for public trees in Twisp and promotes the town as a Tree City USA.

Although they are not passing the family business down to their daughter Molly (she’s in graduate school for mental health counseling), the Filers are quick to encourage young people to enter the trade. “It’s a great thing for a young kid to go into,” says Dwight. “If you haven’t found your niche, try working with your hands. You are doing something concrete. It’s very satisfying.”

“We are forever thankful that we became self-employed,” the Filers add. “We planted roots in the Methow Valley, we were our own bosses, we had independence and freedom, and we could rearrange our life whenever we needed to.”

This rearranging often took the form of things like the summer the three Filers spent in Alaska. “We put a sign on the door of the plumbing shop,” says Annie, “and we took the pipes off the truck and put on a canoe and camper instead. It was a wonderful summer.”

That canoe is likely to see some more time on the top of the former Filer Plumbing van, as long expeditions on rivers and lakes and into the backcountry are at the top of Dwight’s bucket list for retirement. “We finally have some free time to enjoy this place,” he says.

As retirement approached, Annie says, the experience became very nostalgic. “The people here have been so wonderful since the first day we opened our doors,” she says. “There have been so many rewards in having this business in this community.”