Aldrich’s Market is the oldest grocery store in Washington State operating under the same trade name for nearly 125 years. Perhaps even more remarkable is that it has changed hands only five times; its history is also the history of five families, unrelated by birth but united in a common commitment to stewardship and legacy.
This shared vision has allowed Aldrich’s to thrive no matter the economies of the times, nor the vagaries of fate—such as two building fires! We think you’ll enjoy a brief history lesson, as well as an introduction to the newest owners: Scott and Robin Rogers.
Well, perhaps introduction is the wrong word, since Scott and Robin have been a part of the fabric that is Port Townsend for a few years. Their popular Dogs-A-Foot hot dog stand remains a favorite spot to grab lunch during the spring-through-fall season in downtown Port Townsend. The Rogers’ support of all things Port Townsend is undeniable, yet, neither of these two was looking to get into the grocery business, but both have long admired the tenacity and character of The Market. When they heard the Fukuda family was planning to sell, Scott and Robin knew they had to take on the task of keeping the legacy alive. Both consider themselves caretakers, rather than owners. Caretakers of a local institution that remains relevant, while keeping its sense of history.
And here is that history, as told by Pam McCollum Clise in 1995 in “On the Hill: A History of the Uptown Business District.”
Aldrich’s Market first opened in 1895 when Clark Aldrich purchased a variety store from Robert Gray and operated it on the southwest corner of Lawrence and Tyler Streets. In those early years, it was known best for selling school books and stationery, but also had confectionery, fruits, vegetables, and tobacco.
In 1900 a fire swept through much of the Uptown Business District and destroyed many businesses, including Aldrich’s. As a result, Aldrich’s moved across the street to the Dennis-Halterman building.
In 1901 Clark Aldrich Sr. moved his store into George Starrett’s new building (current location of the Printery) on Tyler Street. The Aldrich family continued to operate there until 1927 when it moved to the I.O.G.T. building across the street at 940 Lawrence Street.
When in 1922, Clark Aldrich Sr. had heart problems, his son Ben, just 22 years old at the time, took over the Aldrich’s store. Ben had been working as a machinist in Seattle and Alaska when he got the call from his family about his father’s health. Although he returned to run the business, he maintained a love of the machinist trade. He kept equipment to work on projects at home, in his spare time, throughout his life.
When Ben took over the family business, brother Fred worked for C.H. Olberg until coming into the family business about 1930. Clark Jr., the third brother, was working in a bank in 1926 when he negotiated the purchase of the 940 Lawrence Street building. Willis Clark owned the (then) empty building when he died. The building passed on to his sons. His two sons had more need of money than an empty building, and decided to sell it to Clark Aldrich Jr. for his family’s store. Clark Jr. joined brother Ben in the store by 1929.
Lenora, the only girl in the family, had died giving birth to her daughter in 1915. Her daughter, Edith (“Dode”), luckily survived and was raised by various members of the Aldrich family.
Clark Aldrich Sr. did little in the way of advertising over the years, except for ads for toys each Christmas, until he began advertising Glendale Ice Cream in 1908. When Ben took over from his father in 1922, he began expanding the store’s line of goods and was offering more grocery items by 1926.
The new store on Lawrence Street actually had their grand opening on April 9, 1927, calling it,
“THE MOST MODERN, UP TO DATE STORE ON THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA,” featuring Happy Home, highest grade canned goods, Gold Shield coffee, and Gold Shield tea.
At the time of the move, Aldrich’s expanded into a full line of groceries, plumbing, and electrical goods. Before opening the new site, the family remodeled the main floor by: lowering the high ceiling; installing safety trusses for the hallway; raising the old floor to level with the new hardwood floors; equipping the store with modern display cases; and installing new lighting. The storefront, with 44 feet of modern plate glass and copper frame frontage, held displays of all sorts that were revealed when the “mystery” fence was taken down on opening day.
On December 10, 1936, the store took out a full page ad, announcing, “Aldrich’s store adds complete line of Meats.” Lon Brighton was manager of the new department. It was the start of a long line of memorable butchers such as Bill Saunders, Bill Bennedetto, and Harry McCool, among others. Louie Sofie drove the delivery truck for some time and remembers that when the store had Friday and Saturday specials, he would be making what seemed like continuous deliveries.
Clark Jr. did most of the remodeling of the building in the late 1930’s-early 1940’s. At that time, the roof was taken off “to make it look more reasonable.” The elevator installed in January 1940 came from the Pope & Talbot Lumber Mill in Port Ludlow. It was one of only two in Port Townsend at that time.
During World War II Aldrich’s bought truckloads of goods at a time. Rolling ladders were still used along the east wall to get goods off the high shelves. Gussie Aldrich Lester talks about how soldiers and their families would come into the store for just about everything: radio tubes, silk stockings, paint, cosmetics, dishes, frying pans, whatever they needed, it always seemed to have been found in some nook or cranny in the backroom or the basement or on the main floor. The Aldrichs bought in large quantities and had things stored all over the building.
The Aldrichs carried many customers’ accounts on the books during the Depression, and continued this practice throughout the years. People have told stories of being offered no down, no interest, easy payments on furniture they needed. The Aldrich brothers apparently collected on some of these accounts and lost on others. Fred, who was the only brother left working the store in 1983, claims that he ended up writing off about $25,000 worth of old accounts when the store was sold to John Clise.
Aldrich’s had been operating for 88 years and was declining when John Clise purchased the business in 1983. Fred, Ben’s daughter Peggy Marriott, and two of Peggy’s grown children were still working in the store. Fred, last of the original brothers to run the store, is remembered by many people to this day. Many remember that he often sat in his office looking out over the store, being the banker for just about everyone, cashing their checks upstairs from piles of money he kept stacked there, his desk piled high with papers from ages past. Many remember as children that he and Ben leaned over them with hands behind their backs checking on possible shoplifting activities.
When John Clise bought the business he went back in time a few steps, painting the walls a dark green, tearing out metal shelves and putting in wood ones, taking down fluorescent lighting and hanging 1920’s vintage school lights, expanding the produce area, getting a meat market back in, and adding a deli with fresh-made goodies. These steps “backward” helped develop a strong market that took off and became an institution in its own right, by building on the rich history the store had already developed over its many years of serving the community.
After 13 years, John Clise sold the business to David Hamilton in 1996. Hamilton sought to expand the business base of Aldrich’s by continuing to expand the produce and deli areas, lowering the retail prices to make the store more competitive with the major grocery chains in town, and adding a few “high tech” gizmo’s such as credit card processing and scanning to better serve customers and control costs. Hamilton took in a business partner in 2002 and at that time they purchased the building from John Clise.
On August 4, 2003 Aldrich’s caught fire and was destroyed. Many in the community grieved the loss of the oldest grocery store in Washington State and a hub of the uptown business community. The partners vowed to rebuild the store. While rebuilding, they struggled to retain the store’s creaky atmosphere, going so far as to salvage virgin Douglas fir timbers from the old building, remove countless handmade nails, and mill flooring for use in the new building. “That’s the most expensive wood floor that you will ever see in a grocery store,” said Hamilton at the time.
On July 16, 2005, with the help of an outpouring of support from the community, Aldrich’s reopened and was once again the hub of the Uptown business community. Resurrecting the store, however, exacted a high toll on the partners who found themselves “burnt out” by the time, effort, and perseverance required by the rebuilding. In late 2006, they made the difficult decision to place Aldrich’s on the market with a stated commitment of finding a buyer that would be a right fit for the store and the community and who would bring the energy and intensity needed to take the Market to the next level.
On January 31, 2007, Aldrich’s Market changed hands for only the fourth time in its 112-year history when it was acquired by the Fukuda family. The new owners Scott, Milton, and Renee Fukuda continued to grow Aldrich’s Market on the strategic path laid out by the prior owners and John Clise, until selling it to Scott and Robin Rogers in February of 2016.
Five owners in nearly 125 years, Aldrich’s Market has remained a neighborhood favorite and a visitor’s delight, keeping a firm hold on its legacy while serving the evolving tastes of its customers.