Customers at the Nordland General Store on Marrowstone Island look over cards and other items during a weekend of activities to celebrate the re-opening of the store after it had been closed for six years due to a fire. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula News)

Customers at the Nordland General Store on Marrowstone Island look over cards and other items during a weekend of activities to celebrate the re-opening of the store after it had been closed for six years due to a fire. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula News)

Nordland General Store reopens with new model

Cooperative, board of directors leading operations of facility

NORDLAND — When he was growing up on Marrowstone Island, Josh Brown used to pedal his bike to the Nordland General Store with a pocketful of change to buy 2-cent candy.

On Sunday, almost 25 years and one catastrophic fire later, Brown was at the store with his family to celebrate its reopening, watch the annual Memorial Day weekend tractor parade and cheer for his 15-year-old son in a laid-back triathlon around Mystery Bay.

“It’s super fun to be a part of this,” Brown said.

Bob Brown Plumbing, which Brown bought from his father, was one of many local businesses that were hired to repair the extensive damage to the store caused by an early morning fire in November 2020.

“All the piping was melted and needed to be redone,” he said. “I had to replumb everything — the bathroom, the kitchen, the coffee maker area.”

Candy at the Nordland General Store will now set you back more than a few pennies, but the much-loved center of the community has been rebooted as a cooperative by a group of islanders who wanted to recapture its legacy as more than just a place to buy groceries and pick up the mail.

Tom Rose, owner of the building housing the Nordland General Store, leads a parade with his vintage 1940 Allis-Chalmers tractor on Sunday on Marrowstone Island. The general store, which has been a mainstay on the island since 1922, was closed for six years due to a fire that destroyed the inside of the building. A grand re-opening and ribbon cutting was held Saturday to celebrate the opening as a co-op. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula News)

Tom Rose, owner of the building housing the Nordland General Store, leads a parade with his vintage 1940 Allis-Chalmers tractor on Sunday on Marrowstone Island. The general store, which has been a mainstay on the island since 1922, was closed for six years due to a fire that destroyed the inside of the building. A grand re-opening and ribbon cutting was held Saturday to celebrate the opening as a co-op. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula News)

The store is owned, managed and governed by member shareholders and its operations overseen by an eight-member board of directors. An initial round of private fundraising last summer got the project off the ground. Sales of $250 lifetime memberships were nearing the board’s goal of 500 sold by opening day.

“We’re at 480-ish, and we might get there this weekend,” said board member Barcy Fisher, in reference to the overwhelming turnout to see the “new” Nordland General Store.

Board member Patti Buckland estimated close to 500 people came through the doors during the Saturday grand opening.

“There were so many people waiting in line, we had to cycle them through,” Buckland said.

The 180 Pan d’Amore pastries and Cearra’s Cinnamon Rolls she had ordered “evaporated,” she said.

“It was beyond crazy,” said Sue Hart, one of the store’s nine part-time employees. “But we kept it under control.”

Brian Waldera came out of retirement to become the store’s general manager and its only full-time employee. A founding board member, the former IT specialist had no retail grocery experience when he was “recruited” to run the business.

Soliciting input from islanders about the kinds of items they wanted to see on the shelves, working with local farmers and convincing vendors to do business with a tiny, out-of-the-way store with no track record was a challenge.

“It was quite an experience getting the store open,” Waldera said. “We didn’t have any credit history, and then you’re on an island.”

The 2,000-square-foot store carries just about everything you’d find in a full-size grocery but on a much smaller scale: fresh produce and dairy; pasta and beans; condiments and baking supplies; meat and seafood; snacks and candy; wine, beer and baked goods.

As a venture focused on supporting and strengthening community, the board wanted to offer as many locally produced goods as possible. In that way, the store is a kind of showcase for the depth and variety of Jefferson County and North Olympic Peninsula products: One Straw Ranch beef and pork (Nordland), Chimacum Valley Grainery flour, Marrowstone Vineyards wine, Eaglemount Winery cider, Key City Fish Co. seafood, and Fiddlehead Creamery vegan ice cream (Port Townsend) and Graysmarsh Berry Farm jam (Sequim).

Fisher said that, whenever possible, the store will purchase directly from local farmers. Nordland’s Island Fresh Farms, for example, is growing mushrooms, asparagus and strawberries for the store. Red Dog Farm and SpringRain Farm in Chimacum and Midori Farm in Quilcene are supplying produce.

Waldera said Nordland General Store’s offerings had to be a balance between the often-pricey high-end items islanders desire and what tourists who descend on the island every summer to camp, cycle, kayak and hike want. That means Cap’n Crunch cereal, Pringles, Pepsi, White Claw Hard Seltzer and ingredients for s’mores — Hershey’s milk chocolate bars, Campfire marshmallows and Honey Made Grahams — are for sale, too.

Local artisans and businesses have a place at the store, as well. It sells the work of ceramicist Steve Eiger, pottery from Millbrook Clayworks, and cookware and tools from Norquist Forge. Imprint Books and retailer Takara, both based in Port Townsend but whose owners live on Marrowstone Island, have small outposts inside.

There are also toys, books and stuffed animals for kids, and lots of Nordland General Store-branded merchandise: T-shirts, sweatshirts, baseball caps, totes, coffee mugs and pint glasses.

The store obtains premade salads and sandwiches from suppliers, but it has no plans to get into the food preparation business any time soon. There is no indoor seating or restrooms for customers, although an ADA-compliant portable toilet is available. The United States Postal Service, whose space next to the store was also damaged in the fire, is supposed to reopen this summer.

Tom and Sue Rose owned Nordland General Store when the fire tore through the 1922 building, which they bought in 1994. Rebuilding and re-creating what they had built into a beloved community gathering place would have taken a monumental effort when they were on the verge of retiring. Having the cooperative take over the business seemed like a good option when there was little interest from outside parties.

Sitting in the seat of his orange 1940 Allis-Chalmers tractor, “Alice,” and prepared to lead the tractor parade — a tradition he had started — Rose said he was pleased with the way things turned out.

“It’s great; it’s different,” he said. “The best thing about it is, I can enjoy without having to work.”

________

Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at paula.hunt@peninsulanews.us.

Nordland General Store, 7180 Flagler Road

360-200-1525

www.nordlandgeneralstore.com

open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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