From 2012 to 2018 the building at 2415 NE 80th Street was the home of the NE Seattle Tool Library, an initiative of the NE Seattle Sustainable movement. The Tool Library is a lending library for items which can be borrowed, saving money from having to buy seldom-used equipment such as a power-washer. The NE Seattle Tool Library is also known for its classes and exchange of services, such as a Fix-It Night when people can bring household items and learn how to repair them.
In June 2018 the NE Seattle Tool Library moved to a larger space at the historic LaVilla Dairy building, located just east of Lake City Way NE at 10228 Fischer Place NE. Unfortunately that site has been sold and now the Tool Library will have to move again, by the end of the year 2020.
The little building at 2415 NE 80th Street started out as a neighborhood convenience store in 1946.
The Tracy and Marshall families in Seattle
Pearl Tracy was born in Seattle in 1905 and along with her parents, John and Bertha Tracy, they lived in north Seattle next door to Pearl’s grandparents, Frank and Cora Tracy. The two men worked together in house construction in the growing north Seattle neighborhoods. Frank and Cora spent the rest of their lives in Seattle but for some reason, after a few years in Seattle John and Bertha decided to return to their farm home in Elk Township, Washita County, Oklahoma, where they had lived before coming to Seattle. Perhaps the family felt pulled in two directions between the farm and the city. The love of the beautiful Pacific Northwest lay dormant in the hearts of Pearl and her parents until such time as they could return to Seattle.
In 1928 at age 23 Pearl Tracy married Delmar Marshall, age 25, who was from a neighboring farm in Washita County. Delmar and Pearl had two sons, Dick and Don. Then in 1938 John and Bertha Tracy, Delmar and Pearl Marshall and their sons all migrated back to Seattle. Delmar got a job at Boeing Aircraft and became active in north Seattle community organizations such as the Lake City Elks. Social-page notes in the newspaper described how Pearl, along with her two sons, were members of a sailing club and took their boat out on Lake Washington.
Pearl Marshall seemed to be a busy and active person who always had some employment, such as doing bookkeeping work for an optical store. Then in 1946 she created a business called Marshall’s Grocery and Delicatessen, a neighborhood convenience store at 2415 NE 80th Street.
Wilson’s Food Store
Like the Marshalls, Gale and Gladys Wilson came from a rural background and arrived in Seattle in the 1940s to get wartime jobs. Gale Wilson had grown up in a farming area of Knox County, Nebraska, where his father was a blacksmith. In that era of the early 1900s when horses were still used on farms, a blacksmith made horseshoes and also mended farm implements for the surrounding community. After Gale Wilson married Gladys, the couple moved to Wyoming where Gale worked in the warehouse of an oil company.
In the 1940s Gale Wilson brought his family to Seattle and he began operating a gas station, Wilson’s Mobil Service Station, at the intersection of Admiral Way and California Avenue SW in West Seattle.
On the opposite corner of that same intersection, Delmar Marshall had begun operating a gas station, too, called Marshall’s Richfield. This was the point of connection between the two families which led to the Marshalls giving over their storefront at 2415 NE 80th Street, to the Wilsons. The Wilsons took over the store business in 1951 and renamed it Wilson’s Food Store. Gale and Gladys Wilson, who were about fifty years old at that time, moved from West Seattle to live in the back of the store itself.
The property record card for the store building contains handwritten comments from the King County Tax Assessor’s office (photo below). In February 1947, the inspector wrote, “Old derelict store building moved to this location. Building is at least 40 years old, moved from 5269 Roosevelt Way.” Although I did not find an exact match to that address, it is possible that the store building had been located on that 5200 block of Roosevelt Way NE and had been adjacent to another store or business. The Marshalls may have bought the old building and had it moved.
The second comment by the tax assessor, written in May 1954, was “Building has had no improvements, people have a very cheap living quarters in rear, same heat. Needs paint.” We can presume that the Wilsons were willing to minimize their expenses by living in the store building for several years. Then in 1960 the Wilsons were able to move into a house at 7002 25th Avenue NE.
The end of the small-store era in Wedgwood
The Wilsons operated their Food Store like an old-time country store. They offered penny candy which was a favorite of neighborhood children. Other favorite items for purchase were Bazooka Bubble Gum and toys such as balsa-wood airplanes.
By 1970 the Wilsons were almost seventy years old. They were ready to retire, and it appears that their little convenience store ended at that time, too. It is likely that their store’s business was affected by the region-wide economic downturn in 1970. The population of Seattle had gone down due to the Boeing Bust, which was a drastic reduction in the number of employees and an economic slump in Seattle caused in part by the Mid East Oil Embargo. Many Wedgwood-area gas stations and small convenience stores closed during the Boeing Bust era.
In the 1970s the store building was acquired by the North Seattle Friends Church which is adjacent on the same block between 24th to 25th Avenues NE. The church used the building as an annex for youth activities, and the off-street parking lot was a help to the church, as well.
On May 15, 2008 at the Grateful Bread Café in Wedgwood, an organizing meeting was held for a new initiative to be called Sustainable NE Seattle. Represented by a tree with spreading branches, today the sustainability group has multiple branch initiatives expressing the interests of the group members. Growing local food, habitat preservation, energy efficiency, community resilience and skill-sharing are some of the organizational objectives of Sustainable NE Seattle.
Sustainable NE Seattle serves as a clearinghouse and connection for people to work together, and in 2012 a tool library was proposed for the sharing of tools and skills. Instead of everyone having to own their individual but seldom-used tools and household equipment, a tool library would make it possible for members to borrow the item when needed. Today the inventory of the NE Seattle Tool Library includes items in a wide range of uses, everything from a chain saw to yardwork implements to punch bowls and special-occasion glassware.
From the founding of the NE Seattle Tool Library in 2012 it was been housed in the former Wilson’s Food Store building at 2415 NE 80th Street. In 2016 the building was sold to University Preparatory Academy and the Tool Library began a search for a new facility.
In June 2018 the NE Seattle Tool Library moved to a new home, the historic LaVilla Dairy building at 10228 Fischer Place NE, just east of Lake City Way at NE 102nd Street. Unfortunately that building was sold in 2019. The Tool Library must eventually find another place to rent, or a building that they can buy.
The now-empty building at 2415 NE 80th Street, a reminder of old-time neighborhood stores, is slated for demolition in the summer of 2020. This former store building as well as the adjacent North Seattle Friends Church, 7740 24th Ave NE, will be demolished and replaced with an expansion of buildings for University Preparatory Academy.
Census and City Directory Listings: Old city directories and phone books are available at the downtown Seattle Public Library on the 9th floor (genealogy department) and 10th floor Seattle Room. I used the census plus city directory listings to get the dates of the Marshall and Wilson families’ arrivals in Seattle, addresses and occupations. I also accessed newspaper articles on-line via the Seattle Public Library, to read death notices and other mentions of the Marshall and Wilson families, to get more details of their lives. After posting this article, relatives of the Wilsons added their memories (see comments below).
Property records: The Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue is the repository of the property records of King County. I went there on May 30, 2018, to look at the original property card and trace the ownership history of the building at 2415 NE 80th Street.
Thank you to the readers of the Facebook page called “You Know You Are From Wedgwood IF…” who alerted me to the fact that the building at 2415 NE 80th Street was once a little neighborhood store.