1961 was a good year for Lacey

November 20th, 2018 by Ken

1961 was a good year.   Baseball was still the American past time , American music was still dominated by love songs,  the young vivacious John F. Kennedy was in the White House and Vietnam wasn’t even on the horizon.

It was also a good year to own a business in Olympia.  Some 80 percent of all retail sales in the entire county emanated from a four block area of downtown Olympia where everything you would ever need could be found – – including all three major automobile dealers.

Olympia government was controlled by a three-member city commission and all three slots were filled by downtown Olympia business owners.   The Olympia chamber was also dominated by downtown Olympia business interests.   Everything was calm and peaceful and no one could see what was about to happen.

A few miles outside of the city limits, to the east, in a unincorporated area called Lacey, a handful of young men were about to shake up the entire South Sound area.

Most of them were veterans of World War 2 and some of them also served in Korea.  They settled in the Lacey area after discharge because it offered them opportunities to meet the needs of veterans without the restrictions of city codes for  housing and for the children they were having as part of the nation’s “baby boom.”

Al Thompson had built Tanglewilde and Thompson Place.   Mo Loveless had purchased the old Mt. View Golf Course and was building the largest retirement community in the Northwest called Panorama City.   Bob Blume was operating a sporting goods store located at the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Sleater Kinney and selling real estate out of the back.  Not only had he been building the housing developments of Belair and Brentwood, but was purchasing land to build a regional shopping center.

The three were just the most well-known of those early Lacey businessmen.  Other young men like Lee Bensley, Gordy Schultz, Tommy Martin, Ken Wilcox, Mike Ostrander ,Al Homann, John Rupp, and Arden Deering, were making their mark on the Lacey community as well.

Many of them would gather every morning for coffee and conversation at the Flavor Nook, a drive-in restaurant on Pacific Avenue.   Most of them were members of the Olympia chamber and  the subject of starting a chamber of commerce in Lacey soon became a major topic in that year of 1961.

By September, the group had drafted by-laws and in October the Lacey Area Chamber of Commerce was formed with the motto “Where Free Enterprise Thrives.”   Elected as the first president was retired businessman Ray Kidwiller.

He served two terms as Lacey chamber president.   He later died of a heart attack at a Lacey chamber meeting after giving a talk about the need for economic development in the community.   A scholarship fund was established in his name and continues to provide monetary help to students in the Lacey area who are selecting business as their major.

Selected as the first secretary was Agnes Kenmir (who preferred the title secretary to that of chamber director).  Agnes went on to spend more than two decades leading the Lacey chamber’s management.

The new chamber didn’t cut its ties to the Olympia Chamber.  They made the president of the Olympia chamber an ex-officio member of the Lacey chamber’s board of directors.   They also organized joint chamber committees and called for a joint meeting of the two chambers once a month.   Joint meetings and joint committees were a staple of the relationship between the two chambers for nearly a decade. During a joint meeting in April 1965, the meeting of the two chambers was rocked by an earthquake.

With Christmas coming on, the Lacey chamber created a sub-committee to procure a community Christmas tree, and Bob Blume volunteered to head that committee.   In his exuberance Bob cut a very large tree and spectators recall seeing his car drive down the road with its front wheels almost off the road.

Two projects the chamber undertook almost immediately, was the need for street lights and a flooding issue in Market Square.   The chamber worked with Puget Power (as it was known then) to get the street lights along Sleater Kinney and Pacific Avenue.   The long time flooding problem in Market Square was the result of a lack of sewer systems.   The chamber contracted to build a flood control ditch that ran from the shopping center to a drainage ditch that ran along the railroad, thus alleviating some of the problems.   (Long term relief came with cityhood and a stormwater system.)

For several years the chamber operated out of rented space or donated space.  After South Sound Center opened in 1966 it even operated out a store front donated by KGY Radio.   But, always, the chamber hoped to have its own building and set up a building fund.   Donations played a role and a chamber golf tournament brought in funds on a regular basis.   In 1980 the chamber was able to purchase its own building on Pacific Avenue next to the Lacey Fire District headquarters.   (Now the site of John Paul the Second High School.) Washington Governor Dan Evans cut the ribbon and dedicated the new building.  The property was later sold to the fire district for their headquarters expansion.

Over the decades, the Lacey chamber has changed its name, changed its location and changed executive directors.   But it always had the best interests of the Lacey business community as its first goal.

It forced the US Postal Service to improve service at its Lacey branch.   It fought with the City of Lacey over its restrictive sign ordinance and eventually was able to get some relief.   It supported Lacey schools by its support of levy and bond issues and it continues to offer programs and information of value to anyone who owns or does business in Lacey.






Posted in Business, History

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