If it hadn’t have been for a snowstorm 30-plus years ago, Millstream, a Northwest gift store with a nature theme, might never have come to be.
The store, at 122 Winslow Way, is celebrating four years on Bainbridge Island. Prior to that, it was located in Pioneer Square for more than 30 years.
“I was teaching school and living on Mercer Island,” said Roger Fredericksen, founder of Millstream. “It was a snow day and I decided to take a walk through the little downtown village. I got cold and stopped in a gift shop to warm up.
“As I was in there looking around I saw a wonderful collection of wooden decoy birds, none of which I could afford. So I went to a lumber yard and started carving my own.”
That stop at Riley’s gift store, and the subsequent creative streak in Fredericksen, led him to make more decoys and show and sell them at art shows and at the Seattle Folklife Festival.
From being a part of the Folklife Festival, Fredericksen met and became friends with many Northwest artists. Eventually, he decided that he needed to open a gift store to give his artist friends somewhere to sell their art year-round.
He began Millstream, named for the song “Down By the Old Millstream” which he would sing to himself while carving, in a tiny spot in the Pioneer Square arcade as a way to “test the waters.”
“It wasn’t long before I needed more space,” Fredericksen said. “So I moved down the street to a larger location. We were there for 30 years.”
And for about nine years in the 2000’s, he also had a store at Redmond Towne Center.
When Fredericksen hit 65 years old, about four years ago, he began to realize that working in downtown Seattle was too much for him.
“The idea came to me to move my store to Bainbridge Island,” he said. “I’d visited here many times. I wanted somewhere where I could continue the store, but without all the confusion of the city.”
Many of his customers in Seattle were from Bainbridge and the surrounding area. They were pleased to have him closer, he said. A Northwest-themed gift store was rare 30 years ago, Fredericksen said.
“Back then, all the gifts in the stores were made in Japan,” he said. “We were unique because we had gifts made by Northwest artists.”
His store carries works of 50 to 60 artists, including jewelry, wood-carved bowls, pottery and clothing. There’s a section for fishermen, for birdwatchers, and artwork, including a totem pole, made by Native Americans.
“A few of the artists have been with me from the beginning,” he said. “And others are just added as I find them or they find me.”
Most popular items include jewelry, especially for travelers who stop in the store.
“With all the travel restrictions, it’s hard to take anything very big on a plane,” he said. “But we do ship anywhere.”
There’s also a section of travel books that tell where to hike and where to visit when on the Olympic Peninsula.
Art is something that’s always been in his blood, though he may not have known it.
“I wasn’t artistic as a child, growing up in Minnesota,” he said. “But when I taught school, I saw the children create and it inspired me.”
His hometown in Minnesota had about 900 residents, and he learned the ropes of retail and customer service from his mother and father, who owned the local grocery store.
“At age 5, I was in charge of the candy counter,” he said. “And by 8, I was carrying out groceries for customers.”
He graduated from college in Minnesota and went to graduate school at Berkeley. From there he took a teaching job in the Seattle area, and he’s been here ever since.
Today, he employees three sales clerks who rotate shifts at the store. He’s at the store almost every day, and the part he likes best is creating the displays of the artwork that is for sale.
“That, and the customers,” he said. “I have some wonderful friends here.”
In fact, he said, two years ago he was hit by a car, and customers came forth to help out so that the store could stay open. He said his loyal customers alway make it in for the Friday art walks on the first Friday of each month.
“I love my store,” he said. “I’m here a lot. This is my passion. That’s why I didn’t retire.”
While he doesn’t have family nearby, he considers Millstream his “child.”
“I gave birth to it and I’ve loved it, watched over as it’s grown, like you would a child,” he said. “And I’m very grateful.”
And, while he doesn’t carve decoys anymore, he’s proud to tell that some of the decoys he made were sold at Riley’s gifts on Mercer Island, where he first got the inspiration to make them.
He describes his store as a “Northwest store with a nature theme that reflects the beauty and the specialness of the Pacific Northwest and the artists who live here.”
“Being an artist isn’t easy,” he said. “It’s hard to earn a living. By having this store, it’s my way to help them out. The store has become my gift and I want to share my gift with everyone.”