Kevin Ashe (right) and his daughter, Carly Nations, prep meat before opening time at the IGA in Darrington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Kevin Ashe (right) and his daughter, Carly Nations, prep meat before opening time at the IGA in Darrington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Purchase Photo

Decades of family ownership ends at venerated Darrington IGA

The store, a hub after the Oso landslide, is changing hands. The new owner will keep all 25 workers.

DARRINGTON — Call here and a machine doesn’t answer.

You get Sheila Ashe or the live voice of another IGA worker.

Better call soon if you want to speak with Sheila.

Ashe, 64, the bookkeeper and then some, is retiring in a few weeks, along with her husband, Kevin Ashe, 67, store vice president and meat cutter, and his brother, Randy Ashe, 68, general manager and president. The three combined have put in about 100 years at the store built in the 1970s by the men’s parents.

In mid-April, the Darrington IGA will no longer be in Ashe hands.

The new owner, Tyler Myers of the Myers Group, is keeping all 25 employees, which include Sheila and Kevin’s two daughters. But gone will be those three familiar faces who have greeted thousands of customers.

After showing up at the store six or seven days a week, the Ashes say they are ready for some R&R.

Randy Ashe works in the front office of the IGA in Darrington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Randy Ashe works in the front office of the IGA in Darrington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“I’ve lost the fire,” Randy Ashe said. “It takes a lot of energy and planning. You’ve got to put your heart and soul into it.”

He plans to grow a big garden, travel and do some fishing.

“I’ll probably still get up at 4 o’clock every morning. I spent about 20 years as a logger. It’s a habit I kept over the years,” he said. “The thing I’m going to miss the most is the people. That’s going to be the tough part.”

His mom, Ivonne Ashe, 88, stayed on for about five years after her sons bought the store from her in 2003.

She decided to retire after being snowed in at home for a week.

“I thought, ‘Well, if they got by without me for a week, then they can get by without me,” she said. “I was 76.”

Kevin Ashe inventories meat at the IGA in Darrington, which his family has owned for decades. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Kevin Ashe inventories meat at the IGA in Darrington, which his family has owned for decades. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

She’s cool with the store changing hands because she approves of the new owner.

Randy Ashe said Myers approached them about buying the store when they were ready. The store has been affiliated with the Myers Group for a dozen years.

“We feel comfortable with Tyler keeping the hometown atmosphere,” he said. “As they say in the old Westerns, he’s one to ride the river with.”

Bigger and better

Prior to building the IGA, Ivonne Ashe and her then-husband, Louie, ran a small market in Darrington. She was a full fledged butcher, cutting beef, pigs and venison. The shop was getting rundown and she wanted a bigger, better place. She liked the way IGA stores operated, and grudgingly gave up butchering to do the books.

The couple paid $15,000 for the land on Highway 530 near the Railroad Avenue intersection. They borrowed $100,000 to build the store.

“It was nice,” Ivonne Ashe said. “People would walk through and say, ‘I never thought we’d see a store like this in Darrington.’”

The store underwent three remodels since. The last was over $1 million, she said.

Kevin Ashe (left) and his daughter, Carly Nations, prep meat at the Darrington IGA. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Kevin Ashe (left) and his daughter, Carly Nations, prep meat at the Darrington IGA. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Inside are seven long aisles and four checkout counters.

The bulletin board lists honey bees for sale, the world’s best firewood, massage therapy, an Army recruitment plea and a sweet deal on a vintage clarinet.

Across town, five blocks away, its chief competitor, Family Grocer, shut down years ago. It’s a car repair place but still has the grocer sign.

The IGA, 35 miles from the nearest Costco, offers things not found at big box stores: logging suspenders. Darrington school hoodies. Locally made dog treats for the everyday low price of $3.99.

There’s not many places left with phone service like this.

When school teams play out of town, people call to get the score, which also gets posted on the reader board.

“I had a lady call the other day to see if it was too early to plant her rose bushes,” Sheila Ashe said.

Kevin Ashe, Shelia Ashe and Randy Ashe outside of Darrington IGA. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Kevin Ashe, Shelia Ashe and Randy Ashe outside of Darrington IGA. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

People coming to town call to ask what the weather is like or where to stay.

“I had somebody call and say, ‘You know, I think I left my glasses over at the Burger Barn. Can you run over there?’” she said.

She obliged. Yep, the glasses were there.

Darrington Strong

In October 2014, the Ashes received the Washington Food Industry Association’s Community Service Award for their efforts after the March 22 Oso landslide in which 43 people perished.

The Ashes offered food and drinks to volunteers and first responders searching the mud.

“We fed that crew down there for about the first week. We’d take it to them or have it delivered,” Randy Ashe said.

Those days, he would get up at 2 a.m. and by 3 a.m. had made 35 dozen doughnuts.

The IGA was a hub for people looking for information or just wanting to talk.

“People from all over the country started calling us asking us questions and donating money,” Sheila Ashe said. “It was humbling to be trusted.”

She called in her sister to do the books while she handled the phones.

Calls came in from all over the nation.

“They’d call and say, ‘I’d like to buy $50 worth of drinks for the next people at the espressos stand.’ One lady wanted to buy all the boys a beer,” she said. “Whatever they wanted, we would do it.”

The parking lot filled up with satellite TV trucks. The Ashes opened up the store’s restrooms to all. They opened their homes to outsiders needing a place to stay.

“Those were hard times, but everybody pulled together,” Sheila Ashe said. “A lot of people came to us. We were able to help a lot of people not because of what we did but because of what people did.”

Seven years have not dimmed the pain.

“Even now it is hard to even talk about it,” she said.

Customer satisfaction

The pandemic turned the employees into frontline workers. Sanitizing and safety measures were implemented. The store dealt with supply shortages.

“For the grocery stores, business has been really good,” Randy Ashe said. “It’s the poor restaurants and bars that really suffered.”

On a recent weekday afternoon, business was steady.

Shelves brimmed with Easter candy and summer toys. Workers stocked shelves and arranged fruit in bins.

Glad Tidings Assembly of God pastor Tim Ziesemer is a regular shopper at the Darrington IGA, which also sells Bigfoot T-shirts. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

Glad Tidings Assembly of God pastor Tim Ziesemer is a regular shopper at the Darrington IGA, which also sells Bigfoot T-shirts. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

Glad Tidings Assembly of God pastor Tim Ziesemer strolled the aisles while exercising restraint. His blue metal cart had oranges, yogurt and a fruit bowl for a new diet he started. He’s there almost daily.

“I like supporting a local business and supporting friends,” Ziesemer said. “Sometimes I’ll come in to get something, but it’s more of an excuse to come in and talk to Randy.”

An aisle over, Ian Ayers, a college student, pulled a load from the walk-in freezer.

He’s the store’s frozen food guy and grew up coming here.

“Besides the community center, this is the community center,” Ayers said.

His bosses are his former coaches. “Randy and Kevin coached me in middle school basketball,” he said.

Longtime customer P.J. Wieferich said when she first moved to town from Alaska, she made her first friend at the IGA store.

She recalled how her son, James, would wear his Batman suit and whoosh through the aisles asking shoppers, “Do you need any heavy lifting done?” James is 21 now, and going to film school in Seattle.

Wieferich, a school district worker, said the store has donated to numerous projects.

“Whether it’s a plea for a crate of pumpkins for a class of little ones, a scavenger hunt for a class of life skills students, or just a place to hang some student artwork,” she said.

Wieferich’s sentiment of the Ashe family reflects that of many people in town.

“I can hardly envision this store without them in it,” she said.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Vehicles start to back ups at I-5's exit 192 as rush hour begins. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)
Survey: Snohomish is state’s sixth-healthiest county

While the county has low birth rates among teens, drivers here have some of the longest commute times.

Firefighters work to put out a blaze at a house in the Meadowdale area of Edmonds early Saturday morning.  (South County Fire)
Man, woman seriously injured in Meadowdale house fire

They were taken to Harborview Medical Center. Three other adults and a dog escaped with no injuries.

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman looks up at a video monitor in a hallway as he arrives for a session of Thurston County Superior Court, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, in Olympia, Wash. Eyman, who ran initiative campaigns across Washington for decades, will no longer be allowed to have any financial control over political committees, under a ruling from Superior Court Judge James Dixon Wednesday that blasted Eyman for using donor's contributions to line his own pocket. Eyman was also told to pay more than $2.5 million in penalties. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Ouch: Judge orders Tim Eyman to pay state’s $2.9M legal tab

In February, a judge found that the serial initiative promoter repeatedly violated campaign finance laws.

Simeon Berkley declines to make a statement during his sentencing hearing Friday afternoon at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett on March 16, 2021. Berkley was sentenced to 22-years in prison for the second-degree murder of Steven Whitmarsh in 2019.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Everett road-rage shooter gets 22 years for ‘execution’

Simeon Berkley, 75, was convicted of second-degree murder for the death of Steven Whitemarsh.

Exterior of the new Quil Ceda Creek Casino on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2020 in Marysville, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Tulalip Tribes reach deal with state on sports betting

If all goes to plan, the tribes could get federal approval for sports books at two casinos by the fall.

Mill Creek has new drug law — it could be obsolete in days

The city council re-criminalized drug possession, while state lawmakers debate their own legislation.

County nixes new shelter plan, expands cold-weather refuge

A shelter at the United Church of Christ on Rockefeller Avenue will remain open year-round.

As eligibility expands, 4,700 flock to local vaccine clinics

It might be difficult to secure a dose right away in Snohomish County, but keep trying, officials say.

Brian Baird, a former congressman who lives in Edmonds, hopes to create a National Museum and Center for Service in Washington, D.C. (contributed photo)
‘The time is right’ to honor helpers, says former congressman

Brian Baird, of Edmonds, is working to establish a National Museum and Center for Service in D.C.

Most Read