The Grand Central Building
Backstory and Context
Don Kirk Recalls Peoples Store
Just about everyone who lived in Wenatchee in the 1960s, ‘70s and early ‘80s shopped at the Peoples Department Store at 25 North Wenatchee Avenue. The store was conveniently located on the southeast corner of First Street, with ample parking and easy visibility – and it offered a wide variety of clothing and household goods at reasonable prices.
“We loved shopping at Peoples,” longtime Wenatchee resident Louise Buchanan said. “It had everything we needed! To us, it was like Macy’s; like being in the big city.”
Wenatchee native Don Kirk was manager of Peoples for 14 years. He recently recalled his tenure there with fondness. “We were a meat and potatoes type store, not a lot of high-priced, fancy clothes,” he said. “We were extremely popular in Wenatchee.”
Peoples started out as MacDougall’s, a branch of the venerable MacDougall-Southwick department store that had opened in Seattle in 1875. MacDougall’s became assimilated into the national Mercantile Stores Company chain that had begun in 1914 and was headquartered in New York. The Wenatchee store opened in 1946 in a space formerly occupied by the Alaska Dress Shop, sharing the large Central Building with the Woolworth variety store on the corner to the north and the Inland Meat Market (later Belmont Music) to the south. The Masonic Lodge met upstairs.
Kirk went to work at MacDougall’s in 1953 when he was 19 and a student at Wenatchee Valley College. Harold Bidwell was the store manager. In a few years Kirk was promoted to manager of the children’s department, which was located in the basement at the time. He loved working downtown, often having his morning coffee with friends at the Public Market a few doors down the Avenue. He also became a regular at the Thrifty Drug Store counter across the street, thanks to an attractive waitress from Montana named Deloris. The two married in 1957.
MacDougall’s transferred Don Kirk to its Seattle store in 1958 or ’59. He managed the children’s department there for a few years, and then was sent to Port Angeles as assistant manager of that branch. He and Deloris got used to the rain but didn’t like Port Angeles. “It was the end of the world, as far as we were concerned,” he said. The company moved him to its large Lacey store as general merchandise manager when a new mall opened in 1966. This was the year when MacDougall & Southwick stores in Washington changed their name to Peoples; they were still affiliated with the large Mercantile Stores complex.
Don and Deloris returned to Wenatchee in 1970. Eugene Castleberry was retiring as Peoples manager and Don took his place. “We were both really happy to come back,” he said. Castleberry stayed on a week or so while Don got acclimated to his new position.
Just after his mentor left, Kirk walked into the store on a Sunday to find water gushing down from the ceiling onto the menswear. (Fortunately, the store wasn’t open Sundays.) After moving the merchandise and dealing with the second floor restroom’s overflowing pipes, he got a phone call from one of his sales clerks. “She wanted advice about her marriage,” he said. He was a bit uncomfortable with the request but did the best he could. Then he called his regional boss. “I didn’t know I was going to have to be a plumber and a preacher on the same day!” Kirk told him. “You don’t pay me enough!”
In 1973 Peoples took over the whole Central Building. Earlier, in 1963, the store had expanded onto the second floor when the Masons built their own Masonic Hall. Children’s wear and domestics (linens, towels, yardage) had moved up to the second floor with men’s and women’s clothing and accessories on the main floor. Now, with Woolworth’s and Belmont Music vacating their spaces, Peoples removed two interior walls, remodeled the main floor, and increased its inventory and staff. During the renovation Kirk set up a Christmas shop in the former music store, selling holiday decorations and accessories.
“We got to know our customers,” Kirk said. “In fact, we used a slogan, ’It’s the people inside that makes the difference.’ Our salespeople were really good, and loyal. The average length of service was eight to 12 years. We were a close-knit family.” The Peoples staff had a big Christmas party each year with an auction of handcrafted items they would donate. All would bid generously, and proceeds were given to charity.
He said most of his former staff are now deceased. One woman still living in Wenatchee is Ann Ryan Kinscherf, who managed the women’s department. “She was my assistant without the title!” Kirk said. “She’s a great lady.”
The Wenatchee Peoples store consistently made a comfortable profit. Unfortunately, this was not true of the statewide “group,” especially the two Tacoma branches. Mervyn’s purchased the Washington Peoples outlets from Mercantile Stores in 1983 and announced it would only keep those located in malls. Wenatchee’s store went out of business in January 1984.
“It was a tragic day of my life when I closed the store,” Kirk said. He slashed prices on all of the merchandise and held a giant sale in the days before the final closing. The store’s full-page ad on page 3 of The Wenatchee World read, “Come and get it!” And the shoppers did.
After Peoples closed, Harold Schroeder bought the Central Building. He leased some of the space to a hair stylist and a prospecting supply store, but most of the building remained vacant for several years before current owners Ken and Kay Paton and Roger and Rosalyn Purdom purchased and restored it. Arlberg Sports and Owl Drug now occupy the main floor, with a brew pub on the lower level and offices on the second floor.
Don and Deloris Kirk purchased McBride’s women’s fashion shop from Jack and Ella Mae Crowl in 1984, operating it until 1994. “I enjoyed it,” Don said. He then worked for the Floor Factory for several years until retiring. Deloris passed away in 2011. The Kirks had five children, four of whom live in Wenatchee, and there are 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Don is often reminded of his career with MacDougall’s/Peoples, as the fence in his back yard displays the large carved Peoples logo he rescued from the Dumpster on the store’s closing day.
SIDEBAR – the phantom escalator
“Seems like every year I get a call or two from somebody wanting to know about the escalator,” former Peoples manager Don Kirk said. A number of Wenatchee Valley residents seem to recall an escalator in the center of the downtown department store – but Kirk says it was never there. City building inspection plans reveal no escalator in the Central Building, and current co-owner Kay Paton – who grew up in Wenatchee and shopped at Peoples – says the store had an elevator and large staircase but no escalator.
Polk Directories. Wenatchee, WA. 1907-2006.
Rader, Chris. Don Kirk Recalls Peoples Store. The Confluence. Fall 2013
Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center Photography Collection # 003-67-1
Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center Collection # 89-36-6