It seems that whenever you pick up a newspaper you read about a community whose ‘downtown’ is dwindling, stores going out of business or barely hanging on. They talk about the need for revitalization; for renewal of the area in order to attract business. A lot of the time though they fail to discuss how to keep the business that they do attract.
This is something that has a very long history although since the downturn in the recent economy it has attracted a much more vocal media. And if you participate in any of the social networking sites, once a week you will see a posting like “Small Business Saturday - When you shop small and local more than 50% of the money you spend stays in the community” sponsored by “small business.com” which I recently saw.
Going back as far as The Bay Island News in 1917 and continuing after C. E. Trombley purchased it in 1923 and changed the name to The Peninsula Gateway to the present there have been calls to support the local businesses.
In 1970 a group of seven local lady merchants took matters into their own hands decided to form an organization to promote the local business and to assist each other whenever and wherever possible in the development of business. Those seven women were Virginia Martin, Nineteenth Century Millwork; Carole Chalk, White Whale; Shirley Dearth, Mostly Books; Katharine Hamma, Hobby Hut; Connie Steiler, Incurable Collector; Evelyn Sass, manager of Slaughters; and Marge Anderson, Scandia Gaard.
These visionary women recognized the beauty of Gig Harbor and the historical value of Gig Harbor and decided to get busy and do some to promote the town’s potential. They organized and helped to create a unified atmosphere by cleaning up, painting and converting unoccupied spaces of the downtown waterfront area into active business operations. The group put together a “tourist bag” to distribute to, who else, tourists. Some of the items included were a map, business directory, candy, a photo of the harbor, pen, pencil and ruler, tea, and business cards. They also put a a “Trivia on Gig Harbor” and even today has a few items that you might not know. I won’t put all of the items down but just enough to give you a flavor of the information the sheet contained.
- One of the first bath tubs in Gig Harbor was in the building known as the Harbor Inn (now in 2013 the Windemere Building).
- Long time resident Mrs. Grace McKenzie started her married life on Vashon Island. Mrs. McKenzie once walked to Lisabeulah, rowed to Ollala, and then walked to Horseshoe Lake to tell her logger husband about a job. J. W. McKenzie was later on the original board of directors of the Peninsula State Bank.
- In the early 20s, before there was a light company, Dick Thurston lit the west side of town with a 32-volt generator including his own building (Kuhn Jewelry), the Peninsula Hotel (Spiro’s and Allstar Guitar and Imagine Great Things and Gallery Row and the Novak Building now Windemere Building)
- The worlds record for racing rooster is 80 yards in 12 1/2 seconds set in 1937 by Dot, a Gig Harbor Rooster. Back in 1935-48 it was a sport for local residents to bet on racing roosters. A man named Clarence Shaw raised them and raced them on specially built tracks here, in South Tacoma, at San Francisco World’s Fair, and at Madison Square Garden for the Hobby Lobby Radio Show
Their driving force was, as stated by Shirley Holman in an article in Ladies Circle, March 1975 “We saw in Gig Harbor a place where people could come to enjoy the old traditions of a fishing village, purchase quality goods made locally, and go away refreshed by the beauty of the area. We also wanted to retain the flavor of the fishing village ….and to provide services of value to local residents and visitors.”
DAGHLM members also recognized that many of the residents were of Scandinavian and Yugoslavian ancestry, descendants of the original settlers and fishermen who founded the community in 1867. And those residents still remembered the celebrations, handicrafts, and skills brought over from the old country. The members of DAGHLM hoped to revive the handicrafts by selling the products on a consignment basis in their shops and to revive and celebrate the traditions to be enjoyed by visitors.
Each shop was owned and operated independently but DAGHLM worked as a group organizing, advertising, planning events and helping each other. As their success grew, more businesses joined DAGHLM, and John Holman, owner of an insurance agency, was the first male member of DAGHLM.
By 1982 DAGHLM merged into a newly formed Gig Harbor Retail and Restaurant Association, but the guiding force remained the same “to promote the Gig Harbor and Peninsula business community and to assist each other whenever possible in development of our business.” This new association continued to operate until 2007 when the downtown business community joined the “Main Street Program” and was renamed Gig Harbor Historical Waterfront Association GHHWA. This name was changed in 2013 to Gig Harbor Downtown Waterfront Alliance, but still member of the Main Street Program.
Those events that DAGHLM started events in Spring and Fall as the Festival of Shops, and included participation in the then Harbor Holidays (now the Maritime Gig) Parade, the Christmas tree Lighting and Boat Parade continue today. The summer theatre performances presented by the Drama Department of the University of Puget Sound have been replaced by the Summer Concerts and Summer Movie Nights. Today, under the Main Street Program, there are almost monthly events taking place in town. However those cries for revitalization continue, and the merchants are now joined by the property owners, property managers, the City of Gig Harbor and other stakeholders in their quest for the prize.
I apologize for using pictures of some of the 2013 downtown merchants rather than historic photos but there is just a possibility that these photos will encourage you to check our the current downtown shops. For a current directory of businesses please contact the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce and the GH Downtown Waterfront Alliance. AND, please don’t overlook the HHM Gift Shop!© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.