Judy Matheson, 75, inside her store, J. Matheson Gifts in Everett. Matheson retires and closes the store for good on March 19. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Judy Matheson, 75, inside her store, J. Matheson Gifts in Everett. Matheson retires and closes the store for good on March 19. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

After 54 years in retail, Judy Matheson calls it a career

J. Matheson’s Gifts, Kitchen Gourmet in downtown Everett will close this month. Its namesake owner built it from scratch.

EVERETT — Judy Matheson worries most about the men. Where will they go for their gifts?

It’s a question she’s been mulling since deciding to close the Everett store that bears her name, J. Matheson’s Gifts, Kitchen & Gourmet.

“They come in and say, ‘Judy, where are we going to buy our wife’s gifts? Where are we going to buy our cards? Judy, what are we going to do!’” Matheson said.

After 31 years tending the gift store she founded in 1991, Matheson, 75, is ready to retire.

Her last day — and the store’s last day — is March 19.

It’s been a heck of a run.

Only 30% of companies are in business after 10 years. At 30 years, the percentage drops below 15%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

J. Matheson gifts at 2615 Colby Ave. has been the go-to spot for shoppers on the hunt for glassware, jewelry, kitchen utensils, greeting cards and one-of-a-kind gifts.

For more than five years, the store has been voted Snohomish County’s best gift shop in The Daily Herald’s Readers’ Choice awards.

She will be missed, customers say.

“Everything is so unique and different,” said Judy Johnson, a Lake Stevens resident and longtime customer. “I can come here and always find something. I don’t know what I’ll do after the store closes. We just take it for granted you’re here,” Johnson said to Matheson.

J. Matheson Gifts in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

J. Matheson Gifts in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

In spite of the store’s reputation and renown, Matheson opted not to sell the name and business.

“J. Matheson is Judy Matheson,” she said. “We go to 14 to 16 gift shops a year to find the newest and greatest gifts. I can’t imagine anyone doing that.”

She rarely misses a day behind the counter.

Monday through Saturday, Matheson is the one to open the store and close it at the end of the day.

“I’ve been here every day. I have been here in the heatwaves and in the snowstorms,” she said. “When you’re a store owner, it’s important to be there to hear what customers want.”

As long as she can remember, Matheson, who grew up in Everett, wanted to own a business.

Judy Matheson tallies a customer’s purchases. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Judy Matheson tallies a customer’s purchases. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a store lady,” she said.

She got her start in retail in Alaska. Her husband, Hugh Matheson, was stationed in the military there for a three-year stint.

When they returned to Snohomish County, Matheson went to work for Jim and Nancy Mitchell of Mitchell’s Pharmacy in Lake Stevens.

“It had a beautiful gift shop,” she said, which grew from 7,000 square feet to 18,000 square feet.

She spent 18 years at the pharmacy and became a partner at their Granite Falls store.

Still, Matheson wanted to open a shop of her own.

“I always had a dream. I knew Everett needed a nice gift store,” she said.

Judy Matheson helps longtime customer Merrilee Moore carry her purchase to her car. “I do this a lot,” Matheson said. “Sometimes we even deliver.” (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Judy Matheson helps longtime customer Merrilee Moore carry her purchase to her car. “I do this a lot,” Matheson said. “Sometimes we even deliver.” (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

By the early 1990s, downtown Everett’s department stores were pulling up stakes — many destined for new quarters at the Everett Mall, Matheson said.

JCPenney was leaving. The downtown Bon, now the headquarters of Funko, had already left, she recalled.

The thought of opening at the Everett Mall never entered her mind. “We’re not a mall store,” she said.

“It was scary, but I just felt we belonged in downtown,” said Matheson, who grew up in north Everett and attended Everett High School, class of 1965.

“I had so much support from the people in Everett and a following from the people in Lake Stevens,” she explained. Her retail experience helped her secure a business loan from Frontier Bank. “The woman I worked with knew me from the Lake Stevens pharmacy,” she said. “My credit was good and she knew my reputation, and so they gave me more than what I asked for.”

Newly ensconced on Colby Avenue, Matheson joined a group of woman-owned businesses including Burkett’s, a women’s clothing boutique that launched in 1978 at 2617 Colby Ave., and Renee’s Contemporary Clothing, which opened in 1993 at 2820 Colby Ave.

Matheson was prepared to do whatever it would take to ensure her store’s success. “I told my husband, I’ll get a night job if that’s what’s needed,” she recalled.

In 2005, Matheson opened a second store — J. Matheson Kitchen and Gourmet — down the block. The second store was in business for five years before she decided two stores was one too many. So in 2010 Matheson redesigned and renamed her gift store and made space for kitchen wares and gourmet foods.

Judy Matheson hugs longtime customer Melody Taylor at J. Matheson Gifts in Everett. Matheson said she’s formed many friendships over her 31 years running the gift shop. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Judy Matheson hugs longtime customer Melody Taylor at J. Matheson Gifts in Everett. Matheson said she’s formed many friendships over her 31 years running the gift shop. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Now, after a 54-year career, Matheson is ready for some R&R. Her husband retired 15 years ago.

“I love what I do, but I’ve been working six days a week,” she said. “I turned 75 and my heart said it is time.”

She’s an outlier. Consider this: By age 75, 90% of Americans have left the labor force. Most, 70%, retire by age 66, according to a study by the Life Insurance and Market Research Association.

Matheson planned to retire in 2020 or so, but then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, putting her and her husband’s travel plans on hold.

Besides, customers needed her, she said. She couldn’t leave them in the lurch.

During the three-month shutdown of non-essential businesses in spring 2020, Matheson met people at the door with their orders or delivered them to their homes.

Matheson plans to spend time with her husband and her dog, Poco, a 16-year-old Lhasa Apso-Yorkie mix.

She’s already begun to rearrange her bedside table, replacing the gift catalogs she perused with novels and travel brochures.

“I’ve read three books already!” she said.

She looks forward to unharried mornings and mid-day get-togethers. “I don’t have to go to breakfast anymore. I can meet them for lunch,” Matheson said.

The well-wishers on Facebook and in person are many.

“I wish you well as you enjoy this new road,” Pam Thomas wrote in a Facebook post. “Thank you for the years of welcoming us into your lovely shop filled with oh so many delightful treasures. But, oh boy, the void you will leave is massive.”

Heather Farrell will miss her dual roles as customer and part-time employee.

“I’ve known the store for years. I was a customer first,” said Farrell, who began her shift tidying the women’s clothing section.

Matheson offered to spring for coffee at Cafe Makario at 2625 Colby Ave., her retail neighbor.

“They make the best coffee in Everett!” Matheson said.

Said Farrell, smiling: “That’s the essence of Judy — always thinking of other people, praising other people.”

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: @JanicePods.

Women in business: Facts and help

• There are more than 215,000 women-owned businesses in Washington. Nationwide, the total is 13 million, according to a recent report by the National Women’s Business Council.

• About 42% of U.S. firms are owned by women. That’s a huge leap from 50 years ago, when just 400,000 companies were owned by women, the report said.

• Last year, some 1,800 new women-owned businesses were founded each day. In 2021, 64% of women-owned businesses were founded by women of color.

Those are promising numbers, but there’s still more ground to be covered.

When it comes to startup funding, women receive only 7% of the venture capital pie. Nearly 90% of women-owned businesses have no employees, and less than one-sixth provide professional, scientific and technical services, the report said.

Need a hand? Here are some local resources:

Economic Alliance Snohomish County offers comprehensive information about starting or purchasing a business, including resources for businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans.

TheLab@Everett, a resource for new and existing businesses, offers mentoring and help with product development and marketing. They’re on the first and second floors of the Angel of the Winds Conference Center at 2000 Hewitt Ave. in Everett.

For a list of state and Snohomish County business resources, including the Everett Community College small business accelerator program and the Washington Center for Women in Business, go to bit.ly/3K0OChK.

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