An historic and charming grocery store in tiny Malo, Washington….
Lee and Julie Thorton purchased the Malo store in September 2003, and just celebrated their one-year anniversary as owners. Originally from Kent, England, they lived in California for 25 years, before relocating to Malo. “We were tired of the rat race. The kids were grown and moved away.” Convinced they wanted to enjoy a slower life style, they began searching for the perfect small-town business that would provide them with a less stressful working retirement. “We looked for a year in the South and Midwest, before we saw this [the Malo Store] listed on the Internet. We liked it immediately,” Lee says. He adds as an aside, “Did you know that the coldest place on earth is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?”
Julie Thorton is an amateur historian and has taken an active role in collecting memorabilia and historical facts about the store, before they disappear forever. Lee shows me several photographs of the area that his wife has collected; one is of the train station and is nearly 100 years old. Lee says that he was intrigued to learn that one of the store’s previous owners was also named Thorton and, like himself, was a transplant from England who came here to mine for gold. “We’re doing some checking to see if there’s any chance we might be related.” Lee adds, “Now wouldn’t that be something?”
“[The store] has a lot of history, and we consider we’re just care taking it, until the next owner takes over.”
According to Lee and Julie’s research, the Malo Store was built in 1903, and has known many prior owners. According to Lee, the store’s first owner was David Olson, who homesteaded on St. Peter’s Creek. Lee shares a news clipping from the 1950’s with me that shows store owner, Hugh Lindsey, rough housing with a black bear cub. When grown, the bear was donated to a nearby zoo. Lee tells me about another store owner in the 30’s who found himself in a land dispute with a neighbor he’d sold land to. When he billed the neighbor for encroaching on his property line, the angry neighbor responded by opening another store across the road in an effort to put the Malo Store out of business. Lee says, “[The neighbor] offered free credit, but the plan backfired, because he couldn’t collect on the debts.” Eventually, the competing store burned down and the disgruntled neighbor had to concede defeat.
Lee directs me to the back porch of the store, adding that at one time the train stop had been located at the back of the store. As I step outside, I can see the store’s original facade and porch now pleasantly framed by a garden of sunflowers. Lee doesn’t know the exact date that a house was adjoined to the store, but he’s certain it must have been between 1903 and 1906. He bases his deduction on faded black and white photo, dated 1906, which shows the Malo store with a newly built house next door.
Until 10 years ago, the Malo store also served as the Malo post office. The small area in the back of the store that once housed the post office now holds several large refrigerator units.
Lee and his wife have given the historic store a face-lift, with a new coat of yellow paint and displays of antiques along the top shelves, and beds of flowers planted around the porches and antique gas pump outside. “To me, owning this store has a purpose,” Lee says. “It has a lot of history, and we consider we’re just care taking it, until the next owner takes over.”
Visitors to the store are treated to small, pleasant surprises around every corner. Above the store entrance is a set of Moose antlers, a gift from local resident Darius Young, an Olympic gold medal winner in pistol shooting. In a small nook shared by the frozen goods, is a small photo gallery by Bob Shannon. Shannon moved to Malo in 1988 and was a member of the National Press Photographers Association for 45 years. Behind the store counter, the Thortons have one of the store’s antique registers, still containing Grange warehouse bills dating from 1926. Ask the Thortons to see it, they’ll be happy to show it to you.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this little store is more museum than grocery. For such a small establishment, they carry an unexpectedly broad selection of cooking sundries, soups, soft drinks, beer, snacks, breads (fresh and frozen French breads), deli cheeses, eggs, milk, sandwich meats, tortillas, frozen pizzas, and breakfast foods. Equally welcome is the small, gourmet selection of specialty jams, chutneys, shortbread, chocolates, Lindt Swiss thins, After Eight Mints, and a thoughtful selection of wines (merlot, chardonnay, and white zinfandel).
The Thortons stock a small selection of rental videos, as well as a useful assortment of sundries such as jelly jars, charcoal briquettes, picnic supplies, shampoos, suntan lotions, medicinal items, gifts and charming children’s clothes. They also have a small selection of postcards containing images poking gentle fun at Malo residents.
Store hours are weekdays 8-6, and Saturday 9-5. Closed Sundays.
Location and Contacts
17510 North Hwy. 21
(Corner of Hwy. 21 and St. Peter Creek Rd.)
Malo, Washington 99150
Article and photographs by Sarah Lawrence, September 9, 2004. Ferrycounty.com wishes to thank Lee Thorton for interviewing with us and allowing us to take photos of his store.