Odds, ends, old-time toys part of variety store's allure
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Michelle Adolphsen, owner of Bay Variety in downtown Port Angeles, left, and her father and former store owner, Rudy Hiener, stand next to a display of Breyer collectable horses, one of the store's most popular items.

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — With miles of yarn and reams of greeting cards visible from the sidewalk through the plate-glass windows, Bay Variety is not an average downtown store.

The shop is advertised from the sidewalk by only a simple white sign with red lettering suspended from the storefront overhang.

But get closer to the Port Angeles icon, and the reason for its legions of loyal customers becomes all too clear.

Aisles of candles, paper products and kitchen appliances line the store's interior.

Need an old-fashioned wooden sign that extols the virtues of home? It has one.

How about a trio of pea-green frog statues, eyes fixed straight ahead on some invisible fly? Check.

Bay Variety owner Michelle Adolphsen is the first to say the store has a bit of everything.

She also assures customers the store can put most items it doesn't have on special order if enough people ask for them.

“If we get a lot of calls for something, we'll try to find a way to get it,” said Rudy Hiener, Adolphsen's father and original owner of Bay Variety.

Adolphsen said the store is known in particular for its toy aisle, specializing in old-fashioned toys and games that most stores don't carry anymore.

Adolphsen's favorite toys to order are puzzles because of the variety available. Assembling the classic tabletop pastime? Not so much.

“I don't like to do them. I just like to order them,” Adolphsen laughed.

Bay Variety also keeps a wide selection of Breyer Horses, collectible plastic horse figurines that always have been popular with girls.

Adolphsen said she's amazed at how popular these horses still are and added they're also a favorite of hers.

The day-to-day favorite by far among Bay Variety customers, however, is the selection of candy and sweets the store keeps right up front, Adolphsen said.

The store gets a great deal of business from people who work downtown as they take lunch breaks and come in for candy fixes.

“We see a lot of ladies from the bank and ladies from the offices coming in for candy in the afternoon,” Adolphsen said with a smile.

Adolphsen attributes Bay Variety's core of loyal fans, in love with the items consistently available there, as the main source of the store's success — loyal, as in come-in-every-day-and-praise-the-store's-existence kind of loyal.

“We have a lot of loyal customers,” Adolphsen said, her voice raising at the description.

Vicki Sobieck, a Sequim native, said she visits Bay Variety every time she passes through Port Angeles and has been coming to the store since she was a teenager.

She said she keeps coming back to Bay Variety for the unique clothes and kitchen items she can't find anywhere else.

“It has not really changed that much since I started coming here in the '60s,” Sobieck said.

Sobieck said she also stops by Bay Variety's infamous toy aisle every once in awhile to pick up a toy for one of her grandchildren, though she said mostly buys them clothes from the store's unique selection.

“There are so few options outside of the big-box stores,” Sobieck said. “So I like to give [Bay Variety] my business.”

Sobieck seeks out a specific brand of leggings she can't find anywhere else, and “over the years, I would say fabric is what I've bought here the most.”

To encourage new customers, Adolphsen said she's edged into the Facebook world and has started tinkering with the idea of a website, though she admits the latter is a little beyond her comfort zone.

Adolphsen recognizes, though, what it really takes to draw in more customers.

“We have to have what they want,” Adolphsen said.

The store may be known to have a little bit of everything, but there are some products Adolphsen said she'll never carry.

Cigarettes, though they're often asked for, is the first on that list, followed closely by electronic toys.

Those particular types of toys cost too much to keep stocked and are too much of a temptation for those with sticky fingers, she said.

“Anything that's a high-theft item, we'll never carry,” Adolphsen said.

Although time passing often means substantial changes for stores like Bay Variety, Adolphsen said, she has come to realize the main reason for people coming back, decade after decade: simply staying the same.

“Essentially, it's not making changes,” Adolphsen said.

“If you change too many things, you'll lose the feel of the store.”

A store that, as times marches on, still manages to carry a little bit of everything.

Even pea-green frog statues.

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 04. 2013 11:39AM
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