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Still in its Hey Day

Howard Block, owner of the Bay Hay and Feed. - Brian Kelly / Bainbridge Island Review
Howard Block, owner of the Bay Hay and Feed.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / Bainbridge Island Review

It’s hard to tell who has a more colorful history, the Bay Hay and Feed building, or its owner, Howard Block.

Block, a New York transplant who once started his own organic health food business, bought the landmark Rolling Bay building in 1979.

But to hear him tell it, the iconic structure that once housed an IPA grocery, a junk shop and a feed store, has a history that eclipses his own.

This weekend the Bay Hay and Feed building will celebrate 100 years on the corner of Valley Road and Sunrise Drive in Rolling Bay.

To highlight the occasion, the store will be giving out door prizes all day Saturday, June 23. They will also be serving up hot dogs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

And if that wasn’t enough, the store will feature specials and sales on merchandise.

Originally constructed in 1912 by Lucas Rodal, the building has been home to an eclectic mix of businesses, from a junk shop to a grocery store, and even a TV repair shop.

Today it is home to the Bay Hay and Feed store, a post office with its own zip code, and a cafe.

But it wasn’t always as impressive as it stands today.

When Howard Block and his wife Ce-Ann Parker bought the building more than 30 years ago, they scratched their heads and wondered if they had gotten in over their heads.

“The building was basically crumbling into the ground,” Block said. “It was built on cedar stumps and had no foundation.”

Seeing the true value of the building, and motivated to maintain the investment he just made, Block dug out the building and even the surrounding boardwalks — by hand. Sometimes he thankfully had the help of his son. He then poured in a new foundation.

“It took forever to do,” Block said. “The neighborhood watched us do it. They loved watching us do it.”

“We would be under the building and they would be like, ‘You’re nuts,’” he added.

Go ahead and call him crazy, but he wasn’t finished improving the old building.

“New roofs, new walls, new lighting, new electricity, new heat,” Block said. “We did everything around it and kept the old portion of the building.”

It took time to patch up the structure and bring it to its modern glory. In fact, it took until this year when new plastic sheeting was installed underneath.

Block has also added a few 21st century improvements, too. For example, solar panels on the roof — invisible from the street — now supply approximately one-third of the building’s energy needs.

Maintaining the historic look of the building is vital to Block. It’s so important, he has even kept the original 1912 shelving in the front of store that now displays premium pet foods.

The floors also remain unchanged since the 1950s; mostly wood, but with some linoleum in some places that dates back to the Happy Days.

Other parts of the store have changed, though slightly, but still serve a purpose. Shoes and socks are now on display where the old flour grinder once was in operation. The cash register and a back office are now situated where the meat locker was — the mount for the meat hook is still firmly in place above the counter.

While the building continues on into the future, Block will keep it up the best he can. It has become a part of who he is. At 62, he still crawls underneath the store, as he did when he first bought the building in 1979.

“It’s been a labor of love,” Block said. “It’s just been really fun, actually.”

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