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End of an era


Historic Willamette General Store closes

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Though the Willamette General Store was forced to shut its doors for good Jan. 18, owner Ryan Dato hopes customers remember the positive experiences they had since it reopened in 2011. After 100 years, the Willamette General Store closed its doors for the final time Saturday.

The store has been located in the Willamette neighborhood under a series of owners since 1913. Owner Ryan Dato began managing the space in 2011, at first with the intent to operate as a hardware, convenience and home store before shifting the space into more of a restaurant and bar.

The announcement came Jan. 15, just four days before shuttering the doors.

“We’re just not making enough money to get by,” Dato said. “In the last three years, we were able to figure out what would and would not be supported by the community. ... Food and beverage was supported, so we tried to focus on a full-blown restaurant and bar, but we just kind of ran out of money.”

Dato said the decision to close was a long time coming, but the final call wasn’t made until Jan. 10. The store was a local hot spot for music and hosted its final three live music nights Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The building does not have a new tenant yet, and Dato does not know whether prospective buyers will keep the General Store running in some capacity or go in a different direction.

“There’s a chance someone could come in and want to continue what we’re doing,” Dato said. “Or someone will want to do something new.”

The General Store had plenty of loyal customers, Dato said, just not quite enough to keep the business profitable. Though he put everything he could into making the store a success, Dato said he never found a proper use for the back area of the store.

“That was the killer,” Dato said. “If I could do it over, I would just cut off at that back wall and move inward.”

He also wondered if better marketing might have saved the store.

“There’s a large, large part of this town that hasn’t set foot in this place to fall in love with it,” Dato said. “I always wonder if better marketing would have brought more people to fall in love with it like the people in Willamette have.”

Indeed, the general reaction to the store’s closing — both in person and on the store’s Facebook page — has been surprise.

“What happened?” one Facebook user wrote. “I thought you were doing well. ... It is a wonderful place, a gathering spot, a historic landmark.”

In the late afternoon Jan. 17, the General Store’s penultimate business day, customers slowly filtered in and out. One woman stopped to look at the sign posted outside and popped her head in the door.

“Are you closing?” she asked.

When Dato confirmed that he was, the woman said she was sorry to see the store leave.”You did a great job with this space,” she said.

A few minutes later, Janice and James Beshears sat down at a table at the front of the store, nursing sodas and waiting for their pulled pork sandwiches.

The pair recently moved to West Linn from Montana, and though this was only their second trip to the General Store, they were shocked and saddened to hear the news of its closing.

“That’s too bad,” James Beshears said. “Good thing we made it today.”

“It’s been so highly recommended by everybody,” Janice Beshears said. “West Linn is losing a nice, nice piece of property — a place to come and relax and enjoy music.”

Few knew the allure of the General Store better than the military veterans who gathered there for coffee every morning from Monday through Saturday.

Richard Hunt, a longtime member of the group, said the coffee gatherings will likely shift over to Bullseye Coffee, just east of the General Store.

“Like most older people, we’re not really happy about the changes, although changes are inevitable,” Hunt said. “Bullseye coffee is interested in us having our morning coffee at their location, and having tried it, we will go there for the forseeable future.”

Dato, for his part, hopes that both longtime and newer customers can remember the qualities that made the General Store memorable — summer nights on the porch, live music filling the room, lasting friendships ignited under one communal roof.

“I want people to remember how much of a success this was,” Dato said, “especially coming from where it started when we bought it.”

By Patrick Malee
503-636-1281, ext. 106
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