Opinion

Happy 45th to our anchor and mirror

In 1957, rock ‘n’ roll was being born, Chevrolet was producing what may have been its finest cars, and a bunch of Bainbridge businessmen decided that “what was needed was a new supermarket, with ample off-street parking.”

Led by J. Holger “Cap” Christensen, they incorporated, sold stock and built a state-of-the-art “super” market on Winslow Way, which they leased to three men who grew up in the grocery business – John and Mo Nakata and Ed Loverich.

They named their business “Town and Country Thriftway.”

The Aug. 31 grand opening merited not one but two special sections in this newspaper, and brought an array of luminaries to town. The “star” of the event, though, was “a milk-delivering helicopter from Seattle.” And the building itself featured what a Review headline writer described as “magic” – a door that opened automatically when the adjacent floor mat was trodden upon.

Some of what was appeared in the Review in late August 1957 seems amusingly quaint – a headline declaring that there had been no fires during the week, a short item about a Seattle family who spent the weekend with friends on the island. Other stories might have been written yesterday – a principal concern in those days was parking for ferry walk-ons, particularly passengers from the Kitsap Peninsula. And the newspaper carried ads for Roberts Jewelers, Bainbridge Electric and Vern’s Drug.

But Review editor Walt Woodward knew that Town and Country was not just another business opening.

“This is more than a building,” he wrote confidently, and with prescience. “This is the island growing.”

T&C has indeed proved to be more than a building. It has been a commercial anchor to downtown Winslow, a social center, a parking lot, a coffee shop and a place where you’ll always find a friendly smile.

But T&C has also been a mirror for the Bainbridge Island community. The partnership between the Nakata brothers and Ed Loverich epitomized islanders’ rejection of the ethnic suspicions that inflamed much of the country during World War II. While the store has not gotten dramatically bigger, it has upgraded its offerings to reflect the changing tastes (and budgets) of today’s island.

Today, T&C’s “mothership” store on Winslow Way faces challenges that mirror those confronting the island as a whole. Space is limited. Parking can be a problem, especially on days when ferry riders take advantage of T&C’s generally good-natured willingness to welcome guest parkers who are patronizing other downtown merchants. And the competitive environment is changing, particularly with the advent of the big-box grocery discounters elsewhere in the county.

We don’t pretend to have insights into how Larry Nakata and the other folks at T&C will address those challenges. But the company’s track record of community involvement makes us confident that whatever they do will be guided by the community’s best interests.

Happy birthday, T&C. You are us – our anchor, our mirror, a living model of our community in action.

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