Visitors to the town of Newhalem in the North Cascades inevitably end up in the Skagit General Store, a welcoming supply point in that rugged locale for nearly a century. Newhalem was established as a company town in 1917 by Seattle City Light. Shortly afterward, the general store opened to provide food and supplies to City Light’s workforce in Newhalem and later to the nearby hamlet of Diablo. Over the last 95 years, the Skagit General Store evolved from a company store to a public operation, offering food, dry goods and its highly-regarded fudge to the populace. In the summer, 180 pounds of fudge are sold there every week!
If you’ve visited the Skagit General Store in the last decade, you’ve most likely met one of two unofficial ambassadors for City Light behind the counter. Barb Haight, the store keeper, has worked there for 11 years; Kelly Regan, the store clerk, has worked in the store for nine. The duo has known each other since grade school, and their respect and affection for one another is infectious; the mood inside the Skagit General Store is usually jovial and warm. We caught up with Barb and Kelly for this week’s Seattle City (spot)Light.
Store Keeper Barb Haight and Store Clerk Kelly Regan
Barb: “The store opened in July 1922. It started as a commissary. Employees would call the store and have meat cut to their specifications and the meat would be delivered to their homes. Bread was sold in the store, which is why old timers still refer to visiting the store as going on a ‘bun run.’”
Kelly: “My grandfather Elvie Barnett retired from the store. He was the store keeper in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and he actually lived in J.D. Ross’ old house in Diablo. As a kid, I thought it was a huge home, and I used to ride my tricycle around the wrap-around porch. When I went back as an adult, it seemed so little! Of course, when I was a kid I had no idea of the uniqueness of the place.”
“I happened to be in Newhalem for my birthday one year, and I ran into Barb in the store. Not much had changed. A picture that I remembered from my childhood was still on the wall. I told her that if she ever needed somebody, I would be happy to work there!”
Barb: “I took her up on it. Sure, we went to school together in Concrete, and we had kept up with each other through our kids (our daughters are the same age), but we reconnected over this place. Now they call us Thelma and Louise.”
Kelly: “We really take pride in our job here. We love our customers and we have built quite a clientele. The store has history for lots of people, going all the way back to the Dam Good Chicken Dinner which has always been served next door [at the Gorge Inn] for tours. Now we are known for our fudge. Some people come through once or twice a week.”
Barb: “Some only come through once or twice a year, but we are always happy to help them, and they often remember us. We want people to feel at home. As far as we are concerned, we’re the face of City Light here. The first place any visitor to Newhalem goes is to the general store. When we get questions about why Seattle City Light is in the North Cascades, we get out a placemat that explains the dams and what’s going on up here.”
Kelly: “We’re always trying to build a connection with our visitors. I think the friendly atmosphere and the history of the place makes it something special. And Barb and I do good work together. I love my job and what we do here. I’m employed by the city of Seattle, but I get to work in this gorgeous place! How cool is that?”