For employee Tracy Todd, it was difficult to comment on the closing of Wolten’s True Value hardware store, the business where she worked for more than 14 years. Wolten’s, which has been open for 26 years, is one of Blaine’s oldest small business operations but will close its doors April 3.
“All I can say is I wish it wasn’t so,” she said.
Family members of the late Blaine resident Jerry Wolten, who opened the store in 1984, say they talked of closing for several years in advance so that he and his wife, Ann, might semi-retire. Sadly, however, Wolten was diagnosed with cancer and, after a year-long struggle, died on December 26, 2009, just three months before the scheduled close.
“We tried to push him to close the business sooner but he wanted to be here,” said Wolten’s daughter Jen Wheeler. “I think he needed the customers.”
The family has scheduled a customer appreciation day for Saturday, April 3 and will include cake, coffee and shared stories about Wolten and his long-time Blaine business from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
His wife Ann, a speech therapist for Blaine school district, recalls a man who loved his work, had an expert eye for mixing paint colors and would do almost anything in the name of customer service. She remembers receiving a phone call at 1:30 a.m. from a man who was painting his house in the middle of the night and ran out of paint.
“He wanted to know if Jerry would mix him some more paint and Jerry got up, got dressed and went down to the store and mixed him some paint,” she said. “That’s just the kind of guy he was. Customer service was a big part of how he did business.”
An avid fisherman, Wolten consistently stocked the southwest corner of his store with salt and fresh water fishing tackle and wrote about his fishing adventures in a newsletter called “The Thursday Report.” The report, which included information about water color, the kinds of bait fish preferred that day and weather conditions, was a huge hit among his customers, Ann said.
Wolten was also an integral part of the local sports scene for more than 30 years, and along with John Liebert was honored with the David Duvall award by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) last fall. He was a president of both the Blaine Booster Club and the local youth baseball program, where he coached for 11 years, and introduced T-ball after seeing it played in Kirkland.
Wolten was born in Bellingham on November 26, 1941 to Paul Wolten and his wife, Mae, and graduated from Bellingham high school in 1959.
In 1972 he met and married Ann (Helland) Berge. In 1984, they opened Wolten’s Coast To Coast following in the footsteps of his grandfather who operated Blaine’s first hardware store – Wolten & Montfort Grocery and Hardware Store, which his grandfather Paul opened during the late 1800s on Harrison Street at the age of 19. The store – with Paul operating the hardware side and Donald Montfort operating the grocery side – later moved to a site near Paso del Norte restaurant and then to the site of Blaine developer Ken Imus’ current project, formerly occupied by Worldly Treasures.
In 1966, Paul relinquished his hardware business and the Montforts took over the store, later selling to Thriftway. At that time, Jerry worked as a purchasing agent for the Alaska Packers Association on Semiahmoo spit. When APA closed in 1974, Jerry and Ann moved to Bellevue to raise their six children. About 10 years later, in 1984, they returned to Blaine and opened Wolten’s Coast To Coast (now True Value), fulfilling Jerry’s dream to operate a store of his own.
“He always wanted to have his own business,” Ann said.
Wolten’s True Value is located at 826 Peace Portal Drive and can be reached by calling 332-4077.