But Winthrop gas and grocery store will remain in the family
After 40 years of owning and operating Pardners Mini Market, Bart and Velma Bradshaw are handing the reins to their youngest child, Parker, and his wife, Montana.
Owning a gas station and mini-market was never part of the Bradshaws’ master plan, but in the winter of 1982-1983, Bart and Velma visited the Methow on a snowmobiling trip with friends Steve and Colleen Hampton, and as they were driving out of town they remarked to each other, “You know, Winthrop doesn’t have a real convenience store.”
“There were three little gas stations,” Bart says. “One where the Winthrop Store still operates, one at Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe, and one at the Mt. Gardner Inn. But they were just gas stations, not convenience stores.”
“We should quit our jobs, move here, and build a gas station and convenience store,” the couples said to each other, as if following the script of a comedy caper.“I didn’t think it would ever happen,” says Velma. “I told Bart, ‘You don’t have any idea what you’d be doing with a convenience store.’”
But Bart, working as a CPA in Yakima, had a background in business, and Steve Hampton, a “super salesman for Schwan’s,” was an ace at sales. The two figured they’d make a strong team, so they went and knocked on the door of George Sukovaty, who owned the land where Pardners now stands.
“George’s property wasn’t even for sale,” Bart recalls. “And it was kind of a miracle that the bank loaned us the money. George had to take second position to the bank. You just wouldn’t see that happening these days.”
“Everything just fell into place,” Velma says. “It was like it was meant to happen.”
Making it work
The Bradshaws and the Hamptons, each with three young children at the time, figured that the gas station and store would support two families, but Winthrop wasn’t as busy in those days as it is now, so each family had to take a day job. Bart purchased the accounting business of a local woman, while Steve returned to Schwan’s. The pair also opened four more stores: two in Omak, one in Tonasket, and one in Oroville.
The Hamptons eventually moved away from the Methow Valley and the Bradshaws sought investors to support the four additional stores, which they sold in the late 1990s. Bart’s CPA firm, which started with 25 clients, currently serves 660 clients.
Pardners has long been a family affair. “At the beginning it was just Velma and me, the Hamptons, and no employees,” Bart says. “We alternated so each couple could have one parent at home with the children.” Later, as the Bradshaw children grew older, they all worked at the store in one capacity or another: sales, bookkeeping, payroll, deposits. “Working at the store helped put all eight of our kids through college,” Bart says. “They all earned at least four-year degrees, and the store helped with that.”
The Bradshaw kids and their offspring are scattered around the United States from Connecticut to Salt Lake City to the Methow Valley (daughter Melissa Peterson and her husband, Paul, own and operate the Hotel Rio Vista), but Parker is the logical heir to store management.
Parker returned home after graduating from Brigham Young University and was planning to fight fires, but has proven to be a dynamo at the store, with excellent customer service and management skills. Working as an assistant manager under trusted store manager Kendra Paulk, Parker has honed his expertise in managing the various aspects of a store that meets multiple community needs, from gas to groceries to Discover Passes.
“Parker could have taken over the management of the store a year ago,” Bart says, “but I wanted to make it to 40 years.”
That 40-year anniversary is no arbitrary milestone. When John and Agnes Almquist retired their pottery business recently, they were the longest continuous business ownership in Winthrop. Now Bart and Velma Bradshaw hold that distinction, but they are careful to note that it applies only to Winthrop.
“Hank Konrad,” Bart says. “Hank has owned and operated Hank’s Harvest Foods longer than anyone has owned and operated anything in the Methow Valley.”
Pardners hasn’t been without change and challenges, the Bradshaws say. Fires devastated the business twice and once a woman drove a car through the front window of the store. Velma, who has always managed the books and other financial operations of the store, says that over the years the business transitioned into the digital age.
“In the early days each deposit would include a stack of checks,” she says. “Now we might get one check each day, at the most.”
In contrast to challenge and change, a constant in the Bradshaws’ life has been their spiritual life, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS). When the Bradshaws moved to the Methow Valley, the LDS church held services in the Twisp Valley Grange. Later that year, the Bradshaws helped support the church’s transition to its current location just outside of Twisp.
“It has been very rewarding to be a part of establishing the LDS’s church’s role in the Methow Valley,” the Bradshaw’s say.
Another reward of life in the Methow Valley has been what Bart refers to as “absolutely wonderful customers and staff.” With a good local base of customers and a reliable staff to meet the store’s needs, the Bradshaws say they feel lucky to have managed the store with such excellent employees over the past 40 years — noting that one employee, Joe Bailey, was with them for more than 20 of the 40 years they owned the store. They feel confident that Parker and Montana will have a similar experience for the next 40 years, “or however long they decide to do it.”
Finishing the ride
One of the events the Bradshaws look forward to in post-Pardners life is the Chief Joseph Appaloosa Trail Ride, organized by the Appaloosa Horse Club. A 1,300-mile ride that retraces the route the Nez Perce (Nimiipuu People) took when they fled northern California in 1877 and traveled north toward the Canadian border, pursued by the U.S. Cavalry, the Chief Joseph Appaloosa Trail Ride is now a ceremonial ride that honors Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) ancestors. It takes riders 13 years to complete the whole journey, 100 miles each year.
The Bradshaws have completed 11 of the 13 legs of the expedition and would have completed it by now, had COVID not postponed the ride through the pandemic. This year’s portion of the trek — the 12th leg — takes place in the Bitterroot Valley, from Missoula south. “It’s a difficult ride,” Bart says. “You average 20 miles a day, with up to 200 people. Some sections of the trail are really gnarly and hilly, up and over the Continental Divide.”
While Bart rides his registered Appaloosa — a requirement for ride participants — Velma drives a vehicle in the support caravan, although in sections where no support vehicle is required, such as Yellowstone National Park, Velma rides a spotted horse alongside Bart.
“The ride is very interesting and educational,” the Bradshaws say. “There’s a lot of history involved. Often a Nez Perce elder will come out and speak about a particular portion of the trails, and there’s a whole Native youth group that is working to keep the memory and history of this ride alive. Every night there is a speaker or an educational program.”
Don’t panic about your taxes — the Bradshaws aren’t fully retiring. Bart will still keep running his CPA business and both Bradshaws will maintain the robust community support they’ve offered over the past four decades. But with grandkids, they want to travel more, to sports and arts events, to graduations, and, eventually, to grandkid weddings. With store management in competent hands for keeping up the standards of cleanliness and customer service Bart and Velma upheld over the years, the time is right to step back.
The Bradshaws are looking forward to having a bit more discretionary time. Bart says, “With grandkids and horses and travel, I think we have a pretty good life ahead of us. We’d like to thank this community for a great 40 years.”