Peddling pickles in Birch Bay

Published on Wed, Aug 13, 2014
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It takes a special kind of salesperson to talk someone into eating a spicy pickle on a hot summer day when they’ve already got an ice cream cone in their hand. Virginia Eagleton is that kind of salesperson. 

Eagleton, owner and namesake of Virginia’s Pickles, sets up her unassuming booth in the lot next to The C Shop in Birch Bay whenever she can. On hot summer days, she gets more than her share of foot traffic coming away from the venerable candy shop, which gives her the opportunity to peddle jars of her signature spicy garlic dill pickles. Eagleton claims her sales skills were bred into her from an early age. 

“I’ve been selling since I was 10,” she said. “We grew veggies on my dad’s farm and I would go door to door selling them to 
the neighbors for five cents a bunch.”  

Even at 90 years old, Eagleton refuses to slow down. Some people spend most of their adult lives looking forward to retirement. Eagleton had to have it forced upon her. 

Eagleton spent 20 years working as a food demonstrator at Costco in Bellingham. Last year, when she was forced to take a leave of absence to undergo open-heart surgery, she insisted that she wasn’t retiring, that she’d be back to work just as soon as the doctors cleared her. But while the surgery itself was a complete success, some of the aftereffects led her doctors to insist that Eagleton finally retire for good. 

“That was hard for her, because Mom loves socializing,” said her daughter, Brenda Tarrida. “My whole life, she always had people over, was always entertaining. She has the gift of hospitality.”

Through her small business, Eagleton has found a way to share that gift with the people of Birch Bay, while keeping herself busy in the way she likes. 

Eagleton started Virginia’s Pickles five years ago, at her daughter’s insistence. 

“I was just making all these pickles and giving them away,” Eagleton said. “So finally my daughter suggested that I might as well make some money with it.”

With Tarrida’s help, Eagleton set up her small booth in Birch Bay and created beautiful new labels for her jarred pickles, which bear the company’s name over a picture of Eagleton when she was 19. Her locally sourced pickles sell for around $13 a jar. 

Eagleton can now claim her pickles are award-winners: on August 11, Eagleton’s pickles won Judge’s Favorite at the Northwest Washington Fair. 

Eagleton originally hails from Coffeeville, Kansas, but has been living in Bellingham for 60 years. From her small Bellingham condo, she can efficiently and single-handedly produce up to 250 jars of pickles each year. She has pickled hundreds of jars of vegetables each year since 1954, developing her own almost instinctual system for preserving the veggies. 

“I call her the Eveready battery,” Tarrida said. “To watch her do this is unbelievable. I went to her house once to learn how to can, and I had to leave for a few minutes to answer a few phone calls. When I came back, she’d already done everything and was putting cans on the shelf.”

 Eagleton plans to keep making and selling her signature pickles as long as she can. 

“I’m in such a habit of doing it by now,” she said. “I really think it would do something to my spirit if I didn’t keep it up.”

Virginia’s Pickles can be found most weekends in the lot next to The C Shop at the corner of Alderson Road and Birch Bay Drive.