Four Generation of Service
Through a variety of changes and challenges, local store owners stay true to their customers
By Rodger Nichols
On May 1, 1940, Jared Sawyer’s great-grandfather, Shirley Sawyer, took over ownership and management of a modest-sized grocery store on Ninth Street in The Dalles.
This month, the family-owned store— expanded, relocated, and refocused several times in the past eight decades—celebrates its 82nd anniversary.
Jared took ownership of the store in 2004. He is the fourth generation of the Sawyer family to own the store, which has changed with the times. Those changes, Jared says, are the secrets to its success.
“We have changed a lot,” he says. “We’ve adapted to meet the market and stay competitive.”
A timeline details some of the major highlights in the store’s history:
1940: Shirley and Gladys Sawyer— Jared’s great-grandparents—buy the Ninth Street Grocery Store from its previous owners on May 1.
1945: Shirley and Gladys’ son Stan returns from World War II duty as a Navy radioman and joins his parents at the store. In the following years, the store is expanded several times. It pioneers several business innovations locally, including the first frozen food cases, the first paved parking lot, and the first customer elevator.
1963: A 4 a.m. fire on November 10 burns the store to the ground, with a loss in excess of $250,000. The store is quickly rebuilt.
1965: The supermarket becomes a Thriftway, an affiliation it keeps for 15 years.
1967: Stan buys the grocery side of the business from his father. Eventually, he also buys out the owner of the variety side of the store.
1978: Stan’s son Warren joins the business.
1982: After dropping the Thriftway affiliation in 1980 and operating the grocery side as an independent market for two years, the family decides in October to pursue the hardware business. Sawyer’s Department Store and Ninth Street Market become Sawyer’s True Value Home Center.
1989: Stan retires. Warren and his wife, Marcia, buy the business.
1995: After 55 years at its Ninth Street location, the store moves downtown to Third Street in a space formerly occupied by Coast to Coast Hardware. The move triples the store’s business.
2000: The store makes one more move, buying the land and building formerly occupied by Safeway at 500 E. Third St. With a larger display area and more parking, the Just Ask Rental service is added. The store’s footprint nearly triples again.
2004: Jared joins the firm in November, adding a fourth generation to the family business. Stan is presented with a Golden Hammer Award from Eastwing Manufacturing, celebrating his half-century in the hardware business.
2008: Sawyer’s adds the freestanding Grinder’s coffee shop to its parking lot.
2010: The store expands its outdoor sales area by 10,000 square feet.
2017: Jared and his wife, Cora, finalize the purchase of the store from Warren and Marcia. The store changes affiliation from True Value to Ace Hardware.
Jared is pleased to have made the switch to Ace, although at the time it involved a great deal of work. Some inventory had to be sold at a loss.
“True Value and Ace were both member-owned co-ops,” he says. “In 2018, ACON (an international private equity investment firm) bought True Value. I think we made a good move.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought its own set of problems.
“We didn’t know from one day to the next if we were going to be open or if we were going have to close down,” Jared says. “We didn’t know if we were going to be able to get product or what hoops we were going to have to jump through. There was a period in March 2020 for about a week where sales really dropped, and then we were deemed an essential business.”
The sales situation reversed. People were stuck at home. They couldn’t travel or go to concerts or movies, so they spent time and money on home improvements.
“Lots of people did painting they had put off for years,” Jared says.
When customers bought equipment, Jared says they tended to go top of the line.
Jared is now 40, but he got his start in the business as a third grader.
“My dad had me assembling bicycles,” he says. “He’d pay me $5 for every bicycle, and more for sweeping up.”
Ultimately, Jared saved enough to buy his own car: an old Mustang his father helped him fix up.
That process repeated itself with Jared’s son, Colton, now 16, who saved his money from working in the store and bought his own Mustang. Colton’s younger sister, Ruthie, also helps part-time at the store.
Jared says is very humble and grateful.
“Not just for our team, which works really hard every day—especially through the challenges of COVID—but also for our customers and their support in continuing to shop with us,” he says. “The people down on the sales floor are the ones that make the magic happen here. We wouldn’t be here today without the risks and hard work my great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents put in. They laid the foundation for all this.”
He emphasizes the business’s focus on customer service.
“If somebody calls up and they want to know where the best place in town is to get pizza, you stay on that phone and you talk to them about pizza,” he says. “Those little things all add up.
“We don’t just sell stuff to people. Relationships are important. Having a positive impact on another life is important. That’s how we do business.”