Tom Downer will speak at the Oysterville Schoolhouse Lecture Series next week. Downer, like his dad Jack, is a hands-on store owner. On Thursday, April 6, as part of the current lecture series, he will tell about the history of Jack’s Country Store and, in particular, the role his dad played in developing the familiar store of today. “Jack’s Story” will begin at 10 a.m.
OYSTERVILLE — Tom Downer was 16 when his family moved to Ocean Park from Longview in 1969. His folks, Jack and Lucille Downer, had recently purchased Henrichson’s Grocery in Ocean Park — a store with a long family history on the north end of the Peninsula. Soon a new sign read “Jack’s Country Store” and the Downer family was making its own brand of history on the Peninsula and beyond.
At the next Oysterville Schoolhouse Lecture on Thursday, April 6, at 10 a.m., Downer will tell “Jack’s Story” beginning with its earliest establishment in Oysterville as Morehead & Company General Merchandise store in 1885 when Washington was still a territory. Though its name and location have changed more than once in the ensuing years, Jack’s is now recognized as the oldest continuous retail business in the state.
After graduating from Ilwaco High School, eventual ownership of his parents’ store was the farthest thing from Tom’s mind. “But,” he said, “my four years at Seattle University gave me a lifetime’s fill of city life.”
Over the next quarter century, Tom worked alongside his father, absorbing his distinctive business philosophy (“Actually, philosophies,” Downer said. “He had several.”) He shares some of his dad’s notable character traits, as well.
More than one customer has noticed Downer picking up litter in the parking lot in the early mornings “just like Jack did every day.” And, it seems a given that advice or instructions are a freebie with or without a purchase in the hardware department.
“Jack was a firm believer in stocking what other sellers didn’t carry. He kept a list of customer requests — things they hadn’t been able to find ‘anywhere’ and soon those items would appear on the shelves. He also felt it wiser to put his money into building inventory rather than spending it on advertising,” according to Tom, “and he often added to his stock by purchases at liquidation sales.”
“Come early on April 6 so you’ll be sure to get a seat,” said lecture series organizer Diane Buttrell. “Jack’s has so many loyal fans and the stories about the store, historic and current, are the best of the best in terms of local lore.” There will be a question and answer period after Tom’s 45-minute talk.