Town & Country bags one store in Poulsbo

POULSBO — Town & Country’s first venture in Poulsbo is going to be checking out in just a matter of months.

Notifications went out to Poulsbo Market employees this month that after 29 years, Poulsbo Market at the corner of State Highway 305 and Hostmark Street will be closing at the end of March 2004.

Larry Nakata, president of T&C said potential competition from upcoming retailers in the Poulsbo area and the struggle of having two stores of the same brand in one small town were the factors behind the closure.

“We’re not used to closing stores, in fact this is a new experience to us, but we know this is the right business decision for the right time,” Nakata said.

It is yet unclear who will be the next tenant at the location. The site is owned by Seattle’s Apple Investment Company, which is working with realtor Dorrie Johnson to seek a replacement.

Opening in 1974 as the third T&C-owned store, the shopping center has been known by locals as Viking Mark-It Foods, Poulsbo Market Place, Poulsbo Market Thriftway and finally T&C Poulsbo Market. At one point, the store was a place where patrons could get groceries, shoes, fabric and sometimes even a buzz.

“We used to have sock hops. The whole store dressed in ‘50s clothes and we’d give flat top hair cuts,” remembered Debbie Tuson, an 18-year Poulsbo Market employee.

When T&C chose to open the larger Central Market a few miles away in 1995, employees knew there would be a struggle to keep both open. But the decision was made at the time to keep Poulsbo Market because it was a smaller, more personable store.

“We get to know the people here because it’s a slower pace,” commented 18-year Poulsbo Market employee Teri Waag. “Nowadays we don’t have a lot of gathering places where we can socialize.”

Waag added that one of her favorite areas in the store today is the deli area, where she sees people, especially families, gather on a daily basis for meals together.

“The company tried to keep this as long as they could and I’m glad they did. Poulsbo’s really going to miss something when this is gone,” added 13-year Poulsbo Market employee Jamie Zach.

Employees mark among their shoppers a large number of regulars, some of whom come in once a week or even once a day — if only to say hello.

“I love it,” commented customer Irene Swobe while on her weekly shopping excursion assisted by Poulsbo Market employee Valarie Young. Swobe has been shopping at the market for more than 11 years. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without it.”

“This is my favorite store of all because they have the same selection as Central Market and they have the customer service. The employees really go out of their way,” added customer Diana Ballard who lives on Bainbridge Island and works in Poulsbo. “They make my life easier. What’s not to love?”

Talks have been in the works within the T&C management since July about whether or not to close Poulsbo Market. While rumors had spread through much of Poulsbo before the November announcement, Nakata said his first and foremost duty was to inform employees once a firm decision had been made. Nakata added that he views the closure more as consolidating T&C’s energy in Poulsbo, as Central Market will remain as strong as ever — if not stronger with the addition of some of Poulsbo Market’s employees.

“There is a hope that our people will view this like a retirement. We’re retiring one of our stores,” Nakata said. “We’re not leaving Poulsbo. We’re still committed to this community.”

One of the ways employees are being helped by the company is by being transferred to different T&C stores. Those who wish to remain in the Kitsap Peninsula may be relocated to Central Market or Town & Country on Bainbridge Island. There is also potential for employees to be offered positions at the company’s Ballard and Shoreline Markets, or at the new Mill Creek Central Market that will open in the fall of 2004. And many of the employees say they’ll hang on for that. Besides being a favorite of shoppers, Poulsbo Market was is also characterized as a family atmosphere by most employees.

“We do nothing apart, practically. Birthdays, new babies, weddings, we’re all there,” Tuson said. “Our children have grown up together. It’s neat to see them from babies and now they’re in high school and they come into the store and they still give us hugs.”

“One of the great things about this store is it’s a very compassionate and loving building,” added store manager Al Moore, who has been at Poulsbo Market for all of his 22-years with T&C.

And it’s this closeness that makes the announcement so hard for employees. Waag’s eyes began to tear up when asked about her first reaction to the news.

“It’s like a death in the family,” she commented. “We all knew it was coming and I guess it was unexpected the way it came so suddenly. You get invested in the place and when the customers come in and start crying and say, ‘please don’t close,’ it’s even harder.”

Management has talked about holding a good-bye party closer to March but Moore said he’d encourage the public to come by any time between now and the closure.

“Overall, the statement is we’re still here and we’re going to do the best job we can. It’ll be business as usual,” Moore said. “We want people to continue to shop from us and we’ll still have people here to provide the best customer service we can.”

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