By Mandi Donohue
Gratitude is as rich as the pastry and as abundant as the coffee as Rick and Missy LeDuc mark their 10th anniversary as owners and hosts of the Mazama Store, the community gathering spot at the north end of the Methow Valley.
Rick LeDuc extended his thanks to the community, visitors and employees who, he said, “have made this place.”
“There’s no one person,” he said. “It’s a collaborative effort.”
“We really appreciate everyone and everything,” agreed Missy LeDuc.
Since the couple bought the store in 2007, they have transformed it from a small stop-in for essentials and conversation to a destination that boasts “a little bit of everything good.” It has been a labor of vision and love for the former Seattleites, who work to welcome visitors but credit local residents for their success.
“I so appreciate the community,” Missy LeDuc said. “When we have our slow times, they’re still coming in.”
“I’d like to say ‘Oh yeah, everything here is the way we see it’” Rick LeDuc said. “But really it’s the community soup that people put in so many ideas. It’s a lot of creativity that has come together.”
In return, the Mazama Store has become a town hall of sorts for local residents and a place to for non-valley visitors to grab a substantial nosh and watch their favorite team on the store’s big-screen TV.
“It really has a strategic importance more than economic,” said Rick LeDuc “It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing you can provide things for people when they need them. And hopefully that will continue.”
During the massive Carlton Complex fire of 2014, for example, locals gathered to discuss the latest fire information. During power outages, the store’s generator kept people supplied with ice and other essentials. They also have a well that works.
“It makes you feel really good if you can help people,” Missy LeDuc said.
That help depends on loyal, full-time employees — something that can be hard to find in the Methow Valley. Missy LeDuc said the store has been especially lucky to rely on long-time relationships several of its staff; Lisa Picklesheimer holds the distinction of being with them the longest.
As Mazama’s informal gathering spot, the store also becomes a repository of local history, including pranks. One of the LeDucs’ favorite stories involves local resident Jay Lucas and the late Red McComb. The two had a fierce bet going on over who would win the Stanley Cup one year. Prize to the winner: a tray of cinnamon rolls made from the Mazama Store bakery.
For two weeks prior to the hockey championship final, the store became the site of little tricks: Lucas would hang his team’s jersey outside, only to have McComb cover it with his own. Finally, game day came and Lucas’ team won. But when baker Mary Sharmin brought out his prize, McComb had the last laugh: He had asked Sharmin to put jalapeños in the cinnamon rolls.
Recent residents or visitors might not know the Mazama Store as other than it is now. But its origins go back almost 100 years, according to local histories, and has since gone through multiple iterations as a bakery and small grocery and post office. It wasn’t that long ago that the bakery was little more than a kitchen the size of a closet and a counter the size of a butcher’s block.
An eclectic collection of old structures was demolished in the 1990s, and the small core of today’s store was built. Longtime local residents Scott “Scooter” Rogers and Jen Gode worked at the store at the time, then bought it in the mid-1990s, working to turn it into a community hub.
The LeDucs have spent the last 10 years building on that foundation, expanding and upgrading to a level some long-time locals have found unsettling.
“A lot of the changes and expansion weren’t made to make the store bigger and sell more,” Rick LeDuc said. “It was just to make what we had more reasonable.”
“It’s been a fun journey but it’s definitely been a journey,” added Missy LeDuc.
Their own journey begins in Seattle, where Rick and Missy first met. Rick LeDuc’s family lived close to Husky Deli in West Seattle, a family owned business run by Missy’s father, John Miller. After church on Sundays, Rick’s mother would take him to the deli to get lunch meat for the week.
“If I was on my game I would get on the broom and sweep the back and (Missy’s) dad would give me an ice cream cone,” Rick said. He scooped ice cream at the store one summer: “My very first job!”
As time went on, Missy worked the deli counter, and Rick would come in for lunch. In the summer of 1987, they made a date to ride bikes and watch July 4 fireworks. They married the following year and “have never looked back,” Rick LeDuc said.
“Fast and furious,” Missy LeDuc added with a laugh.
Rick LeDuc fell just as hard for the Methow Valley, and came here often to ski and rock climb back in the 1970s. Later, he and Missy brought their four children over for Christmas at the Patterson Lake cabins. After they moved here full-time, Rick started a plowing business, became a volunteer firefighter and continued to run his Seattle-based wax box manufacturing business from afar. Missy LeDuc took a job at the Mazama Store.
“Missy had a lot of time under her belt to see the things that we could do to make it more of an asset to the community,” Rick LeDuc said. The couple also saw an opportunity for their kids to work at the store and learn about business.
“It’s an amazing thing to have our family work together,” Missy LeDuc said. “I don’t know how long that will last but for right now, to have that special time working and collaborating on things … everybody’s input has been really fun.”
That doesn’t lock in the future. “The thought is that this would be a way for the kids to learn how to run a business— but it wasn’t going to be their business unless they wanted it to be their business,” Rick LeDuc said.
For now, the ebb and flow of daily transactions is all-consuming. ”It’s our evening conversation,” Rick LeDuc laughed. “It’s our pillow talk.”
“I feel very lucky that I have a real partner in life and that we enjoy doing everything together, which includes the store,” Missy LeDuc added. “I just feel this connection and true collaboration between the two of us in everything we do. It’s been amazing, going on 30 years.”
Rick LeDuc, who still runs his Seattle business, calls Missy “the heart-and-soul” of the store. “I think anyone in the valley that has seen us, knows we don’t do a whole lot of things apart.”
Nor do the LeDucs do a whole lot of things without the community their store serves. “I don’t mean to sound too corny but there are people here that are as much family as our family,” Rick LeDuc said.