Jane Bair Light (left) and Barney Bair, serving ice cream behind the counter. Just like the good old days. (Photo by Donna Quackenbush).
By Nancy Covert
It’s not often that a mugging is cause for celebration, but the mugging‚Äîand shaking‚Äîheld June 1 at the Bair Store in was such an occasion. The mugging referred to the return of a collection of personalized coffee mugs to the landmark Bair Drug and Hardware in Steilacoom.
Since 1895 the white frame store, at the corner of Wilkes and Lafayette, has held a special place in the hearts of town residents. Besides having the first phone in the community it also had the first electricity in town. It also was the setting for the community’s post office.
Residents waiting inside the Bair for the Urban Trolley knew when it was coming, according to Jane Bair Light, “because the store lights flickered”‚Äîdue to the drain on the power of the trolley as it approached the town.
The latest chapter in the Bair’s century-plus history took place this past Sunday when store patrons‚Äîmostly members of the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association‚Äî”mugged” the Bair.
The ritual of replacing more than 100 coffee mugs, bearing the store’s logo and illustration of the building, along with the patron’s name, was one more step toward the eventual reopening of this Living History Museum that’s been operated by SHMA since the 80s. The collection of old-timey, sepia-toned mugs had been removed this past winter as part of the extensive renovation/restoration of the 113-year-old community landmark.
In keeping with the occasion’s “good old days” circa-1800s atmosphere, Jane and brother, Barney Bair, deftly dished out chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream for cones, sundaes‚Äîtopped with strawberries or chocolate syrup‚Äîand shakes for “customers”, including fortunate passers-by who stopped by that afternoon. An array of freshly baked cookies, provided by Bair Store committee members sweetened the deal.
This time of year, recalled Barney, “Uncle Bill (Bill Leech) bought fresh strawberries from Mr. Higuchi who raised them at his Sunnyside Beach garden before WW II. Barney recalled that his uncle paid around 25 cents for three flats of berries.
“They were always the freshest, sweetest berries around.”
Bill and Eudocia Leech managed the store for many years.
“Uncle Bill and Aunt ‘Docia,” he added, taught us the “finer points” of sundae and soda making, lessons that haven’t been forgotten.
Mingling with spirits from the past, Sunday’s sundae patrons savored the frozen dessert and cookies while eagerly anticipating a not-too-distant date when the Bair Store is back in business. To that we add the Bair rallying cry: “hip hip hoorah!”
Potential Bair Store proprietors, who value a good-old-days-type setting, are encouraged to phone SHMA at 584-4133 for details about leasing the business.