Clark fire damaged more than 2 iconic stores — it took a piece of Bellingham history

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Clark Feed & Seed, Avalon Records fire

A fire the evening of July 17, 2019, significantly damaged landmark downtown business Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records.

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Downtown Bellingham lost a piece of history Wednesday night, July 17, after a fire significantly damaged the building that housed Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records.

The building, located within the Downtown Bellingham Historic District, has a long history dating back to the completion of The Bellingham Bay Railroad in 1891 when the area became an economic hub and businesses, such as feed stores, grocery stores, warehouses and brothels, benefited.

The Whatcom County assessor’s website lists it as a one-story, 5,500-square-foot building built with brick exterior walls.

It was built in 1908, according to the assessor’s website and the National Register of Historic Places.

Clark Feed & Seed has been in business under different names since 1887 but opened its doors in that building April 9, 1949, according to The Bellingham Herald archives. Larry Oltmann has operated Clark Feed & Seed for 44 years.

Oltmann worked at Clark Feed & Seed with Greg Clark, son of the original owner Robert Clark, before taking the business over, according to Jeff Jewell, a historian at the Whatcom Museum.

Avalon, at 1330 Railroad Ave., and Clark, at 1326 Railroad Ave. shared the building owned by M Gelb Properties LLC and a Sallie Gelb trust, according to Whatcom County Assessor Keith Willnauer.

The building in next to the former Hohl Feed & Seed, at 1322 Railroad Ave., that was destroyed by a fire Feb. 18. That fire was started by a transient attempting to get warm.

The assessor’s website lists the Hohl building as being owned by trusts for Gleb and Koplowitz families.

The owners’ representative has not replied to multiple attempts to contact him.

The first record store in the building opened in 1978, according to past Bellingham Herald articles. The store was called Budget Tapes and Records. It operated under that name until Jim Nickol bought it in 1987 and later decided to rename it Avalon Records, according to Katie Nickol, Jim’s daughter.

Now, Avalon Records and its musical legacy are owned by Chris Lamb.

Jon Auer, co-founder of the band The Posies, said he worked in the building back when it was Budget Tapes and Records.

“It was my first job,” Auer told The Bellingham Herald. “I have been lucky my whole life that making music has been my only job since when I worked there in high school.”

Auer said his time working at the record store next to Clark Feed & Seed were very formative years for him as a musician.

“I was the kid that came down every day to hang out and was there so much that they were like ‘let’s give this kid a job because he’s always in here anyways,’ ” Auer said.