Special Reports

In tree-rich area, Griggs' Stationery took root

As pro- and anti-consolidation forces on Bellingham Bay argued over whether to join the futures of Whatcom and Fairhaven, Horace Griggs made his way from Chicago to Seattle.

In 1903, Griggs found work in a large stationery store and was soon traveling around the state as a salesman for the company. His territory, said his son Humphrey Griggs, was "forested areas that had saw and lumber mills." Inevitably, Horace made his way to Bellingham.

"He would take a steamer out of Seattle, hire a buggy and a horse, and go all over the county calling on the mills and taking office supply orders," said Humphrey, now 94.

Horace would then take the orders back to Seattle, where the stationery store would fill and ship them. On a 1906 trip through Bellingham, Horace was rolling along Dock Street (Cornwall Avenue), when he noticed Boyer Printing Co. He had $50 in his pocket and a hankering to work for himself. He walked in, bought the business and named it "Griggs' Stationery and Printing."

Griggs was a well-respected and admired businessman in Bellingham. A charter member of the Rotary Club when it began in 1917, he also received the highest honor of 33rd Degree from the Masons, and became a beaver - an award higher than an eagle - in the Boy Scouts of America. And, according to his granddaughter, Donel Griggs, who now runs the store, he really cared about his customers.

"He would put a coin in his left pocket when he would go to work," she said. "If he helped a customer exceptionally well, or did something nice for them, he would take the coin out of his left pocket and put it in his right pocket. At night, if that coin were still in his left pocket, he'd have to do it twice the next day."

Donel says "Poppy," as Horace was known in the family, established a high level of customer service in the store, and customers came to expect it. "We still have people come in and say they remember when he got old, he would sit on a stool in front of the store - because he couldn't work the cash register anymore - and he'd give candy to the kids that came in," she said.

Horace was also a savvy businessman. Just before the Depression, he stocked up on extra inventory. The company survived the ensuing economic nightmare because the store could live off the stock on the shelves. It helped, too, that Griggs could rely on his son, who was attending the University of Southern California.

"I was down there when the crash came and my father called and said, 'You better come home and give me a lift,'" recalled Humphrey. Humphrey never finished college. Instead, he worked in the family store until he retired in 1981.

For 10 of those years, from 1971 to 1981, Griggs was in good company at the store. His son, John, had returned from the service and entered to the family business to work alongside his dad. When Humphrey left, John stayed on until 1984.

Like many downtown businesses, Griggs' struggled as shoppers shifted their attention and their spending to the new Bellis Fair mall. For the first time since 1906, the store couldn't support the family anymore. It was sink or sell, or John had to go to work for someone else. That's when John's wife, Donel, piped up and said, "I'll run the store!"