Forty years is a long time to survive in the local retail business. Since 1980, when Tom Kimbrell opened Winthrop Mountain Sports on Riverside Avenue, thousands of stores have come and gone, national chains have sprung up and disappeared, retail giants like Sears and JC Penney have withered in the face of online competition.
Winthrop Mountain Sports has not only survived but remains a venerated downtown anchor. Part of that may be due to the longevity of committed ownership. The store has changed hands only twice in four decades — first in 1997, and again just last week. For that story, see page A1.
Retail is hard. I learned that as a business reporter writing about companies large and small over a couple of decades. You have to establish a niche, project a distinct image, be able to manage inventory and anticipate changing interests. One or two false steps can do you in, no matter how successful you may have become.
In small communities like ours, earnest entrepreneurs keep leaping into the retail or customer service fray. Only a few last as long as Winthrop Mountain Sports. Most come and go relatively quickly, fading from memory as others step up to take their places.
In doing research for this week’s story about the sale of Winthrop Mountain Sports, out of curiosity I perused back issues of the Methow Valley News, specifically the 1980 and 1997 volumes.
In 1980, the News was printed in huge, unwieldy broadsheet pages, 17 inches wide and 22 inches deep (today’s paper is 11.5 inches wide and 21.5 inches deep. All the photos were black and white. Mae Darwood was editor and publisher, Mike Irwin was assistant editor and John Bonica was a reporter. Dianna Hottell was also a reporter, and my current neighbor Susan Koptonak was advertising manager.
The pages are a bit fragile now, yellowed and crispy, but packed with interesting things to read. It was a lively, engaging paper, full of community news and personalities. I quickly surveyed who was advertising in the 1980 newspapers, taking note of who is long gone and who is still around.
Here are some of the businesses that advertised that year and are no longer with us — it’s probably not complete, and some of the businesses may have morphed into different iterations over the years. See how many you recollect: The Evergreen Store; the Virginian Restaurant (the motel is still open); The Ore House; Old National Bank; The Mountain Gallery; The Corral; M&J Mercantile (now the Tenderfoot); Abram’s Chevrolet; North Cascades Skidoo; My’s Bakery; Timberline Limited; Kinders (a big advertiser); Tally Ho; Sam’s Place; Twisp Gift Shop; Brook’s Mercantile; Dyot Ceramics; Flowers, Etc.; Sound Track II; Jane’s Things; The Broken Spoke; Yocks; Twisp Paint-Glass; The Last Trading Post; Larry’s Auto Repair; Chase’s; The Woodsman; Methow Valley Saw Shop; Ira Smith’s; Elma’s Variety Store; Sharp Shop; Mazama Trading Post; Howard Stores; The Hang Up; Ollie’s Restaurant; Country Kitchen Restaurant; Mountain Do Salon (what a great name!); On the Deck; Cub Creek Pottery; Second Mile Sawmill; The Winthrop Palace (now Carlos 1800); Duane’s Shell Service; Ed’s Construction; The Valley Forge Blacksmith; Methow Valley Meat; Bob’s Texaco; Lazy R Growers; Almquist Old Time Pottery; Natural Creations Gallery; Doran Construction; Country Comforts; The Natural Image; Wagon Wheel Restaurant; George’s Friendly Resort. It seems there was also a Sears store in the valley at the time (the small Sears outlet in Omak recently closed).
There were also quite a few names that are still around: Sun Mountain Lodge; The Slag Works; Valley Veterinary Clinic; the Carlton Store; Winthrop Motors (now the Winthrop Store); Methow Valley Lumber; Bear Creek Lumber; Twisp Chevron; Hank’s Market (now Hank’s Harvest Foods); Branding Iron; Ulrich’s Pharmacy; Webster Furniture; Hamilton Farm Equipment; Cariboo Inn; Rawson’s; Methow Valley Inn; The Outdoorsman; Three Fingered Jack’s; KOA Kampground; Pine Near Trailer Park; Big Twin Lakes Campground; River Bend Trailer Park; VIP Insurance.
If I missed or mischaracterized any on either list or made other errors, my apologies — it was a quick review. Feel free to correct the record. Also worth noting: Among the Liberty Bell High School graduating class of 1980 were current business owners Mike Port and Jerry Palm. I didn’t have time to do a representative survey of 1997, but I’m sure that year would generate recognition and memories as well.
I won’t be around in 40 years for a similar review. But let’s hope that future readers will still be familiar with many names on our current roster of businesses.