Kevin Schallhorn still remembers the customers he served the day he officially opened North Bend’s Les Schwab on June 26, 1991.
After serving some of those customers for his entire 30 year stint as the store’s manager — and living in North Bend for 20 years — Schallhorn decided to call it a career at the end of 2021.
“Over the last 30 years we’ve had some hurdles to cross, but it’s been a wonderful career with no regrets,” Schallhorn said. “The appreciation these last couple of months when I was telling people that I was leaving, was really heartwarming. The out-pour was just amazing. That’s where it became a little bittersweet.”
Schallhorn was a year out of college and in need of work when he took a job as a break alignment technician with Les Schwab in 1981. After five years, he had worked his way up the ladder to assistant manager of a store in Oregon.
In 1991, Schallhorn was told to take a look at North Bend, driving up with his family to tour the area, and then submitting an application to manage the city’s new Les Schwab location.
Schallhorn recalls the city, which had less than 3,000 residents at the time, was different when he was first starting, joking that the store didn’t have many customers.
“I always used to say, before they put those roundabouts in, you could pull out of the store and not even have to stop,” he said.
Still, Schallhorn says North Bend holds on to much of its small town appeal and character, calling it a place where people will always wave.
“Sometimes I don’t know everyone’s name, but I know their face, their car and I know what I sold them,” he said.
One way Schallhorn’s connection to the community — which includes years of supporting youth and high school sports, Torguson Park and this newspaper — can be measured is by a list of 227 people he has interacted with over the years, including customers, he wants to call and personally thank.
Some of those people he is hoping to thank are those who helped him in 2014, when a natural gas explosion destroyed several North Bend businesses, including Les Schwab. Schallhorn still remembers the 4:38 a.m. phone call he received that day telling him what had happened.
“We had a goal that it wasn’t going to take us down, even though the store was devastated,” he said.
Schallhorn got to work right away to restore his store to its former state. He immediately got on the phone and his first priority was finding other Les Schwab branches in the area for his employees to work at while he got the store back together.
After just two weeks, Schallhorn secured a tent and a double-wide office trailer, and his store was back in business. He ran the store without a building until it was rebuilt six months later.
“It was a hurdle, but I’m a fighter,” he said. “Customers, the city and everyone asked what they could do to help.”
In the short time since his retirement, Schallhorn has already started a bucket list that includes running a half marathon, lowering his golf handicap and riding an ironman motorcycle race with his son in Goldendale.
So far, he said he has enjoyed the little things — like that Sundays are not his only days off anymore, and that he and his wife will finally be able to have dinner at a normal time.
“For 30 years, it’s been eating dinner at 9-9:30 when I get off and getting up at 4:30,” he said. “We’re getting better. We had dinner at 6:30 last night.”
As Schallhorn leaves his job behind North Bend, he says the people, who he calls his family, is what he’ll miss the most.
“The people who would stop in and just say hi and not buy anything, that’s what I’m gonna miss most about seeing my North Bend family,” he said. “It’s been a really heartwarming experience.”