For Wendy Thomas, running Carmichael’s True Value Hardware Store is never boring.
Every day, someone walks in with a new challenge to fix. Visitors pace the wooden boards of the store, discovering something useful, humorous, sometimes timeless.
“I feel like I’m preserving an ancient tradition,” she says.
In a sense, she is. Thomas and her husband, Bryan Woolsey, have run this store, both a source of needed hardware and tools, and a home-gifts-and-goods stop for tourists, for 12 years. Theirs is the oldest continuous business in the Valley, having been founded in 1902 as the Reinig Brothers Store.
Brothers Otto and Dio Reinig grew up on Snoqualmie’s huge hop farm, and founded their general store on the site of today’s shop. It burned, as wooden buildings often did in yesteryear’s America, in 1907, but was quickly rebuilt. It’s been remodeled and changed over the century, the latest update being a new coat of paint last month.
According to local historian Dave Battey, the Reinig family were immigrants who brought a lot of entrepreneurial spirit to the Valley.
Leonard Reinig came to Portland, Ore., from Germany, in 1862, then moved to Seattle. He had a thriving bread, cake and candy shop, but, after rebuilding following Seattle’s first big fire, had enough of the city and wanted to move to the country, to raise his and wife Margarethe’s sons Otto, Dio and Edward.
He linked up with former Seattle neighbor, Captain George W. Gove, a partner in the Snoqualmie Hop Ranch, and moved to Snoqualmie in 1890.
The Reinig family bought 120 acres at what is now Reinig Road. Their original house, now much altered, is 39254 Park Street in Snoqualmie.
Otto married Minnie Owens of Issaquah and settled in a Snoqualmie home where the Union 76 station now stands. He and his brother Dio built the Reinig Brothers Store in 1902. He
Otto and Minnie planted the stately magnolia tree in front of the 76 station.
Signs and photos still exist from the Reinig days. The images show a shop filled with goods. Sometime after the Reinigs, the store was a Red and White grocery store for about 30 years, said Woolsey. The former walk-in refrigerator is now the paint-mixing room.
It’s a bit of a challenge keeping up a century-old store. Drifts of snow sometimes make their way under the eaves. When it warms, that means a bucket—or several—have to be deployed to catch the melt.
There may also be a ghost around.
“Every once in a while, somebody sees or hears something,” says Woolsey, that they can’t explain.
He’s got his own tale.
“Early on, when we first bought the store, I was doing ordering in the back corner, about 5 o’clock in the morning,” said Woolsey, an early riser. “I heard footsteps through the store, in fact, right about where we’re standing,” by the store’s kitchen. “They were very loud—clomp, clomp, clomp, like somebody walking into work.”
He thought it was one of his employees, arriving extra early. But the person never said hello.
“So I sat there and worked for 20 minutes, and he never said anything. I came out here, and there was nobody here. The door was locked. The lights were out. It wasn’t anybody sneaking around.”
The mystery has never been explained.
The historic nature of this modern general store defines Carmichael’s True Value.
“We base what we order on how things sit with the feel of the building,” Woolsey said. “You can’t put out a lot of really super-modern stuff. It doesn’t fit.”
There aren’t many places like Carmichael’s left, customers tell Thomas.
While hardware will always be around—tools are always a seller, because “something is always breaking,” Thomas says—“a small, independently owned business is an endangered species.” With any luck, though, Carmichael’s brand of useful, quirky, historic and fun will keep customers coming in.
Above, the Reinig Bros. general store in its earliest days, circa 1902.