Before murals went up on the city walls, before the farmers market was held across the street and even before the smells of mint began to drift out of Callisons, Chehalis became home to family-owned formalwear Bartel’s Clothing and Shoes.
On Saturday, during ChehalisFest, the owners of Bartel’s will celebrate the centennial anniversary with sales, games and prizes.
“Everybody that we face has a Bartel’s story. ‘That's where I bought my first suit.’ ‘That’s where I got my first tux,’” said co-owner Boyd Calder. “For example, we had a gentleman looking for a suit for an interview and he was saying, ‘I got my first suit here when I was getting married to that woman.’ And there was a lady across the way in the women’s section.”
After being established in 1922 by Howard Bartel, the store had only menswear for 44 years. In its century, it has changed storefronts and hands four times, but has remained locally-owned and in downtown Chehalis. While it now has a women's clothing and shoe department, Bartel’s still specializes in men’s suits and tuxedos.
Boyd Calder has co-owned the place with his son, Brady Calder, for the last four years. While there have been ups and downs in owning a retail shop throughout the pandemic, both owners said ultimately, it has been a great experience working with a supportive community to keep the longtime institution going.
Brady Calder grew up in Napavine and said he always knew he wanted to settle down in Lewis County. In the last four years, he bought a business that has been in downtown Chehalis for a century, got married and had two children.
“Dad retired. I was doing my corporate life thing, and wanted to find a job that was conducive to what everybody wants, that work-life balance. This was a good opportunity for us,” said Brady Calder, adding that they knew the previous owner and began talking about purchasing the business in 2017.
Boyd Calder spent his career in education in Centralia, Napavine and Winlock. Now, he gets to be a new part of his former students’ life stories when they visit Bartel’s to rent, buy or tailor formalwear for weddings, job interviews, funerals and proms.
Brady Calder went on to describe that for the folks they work with, seeing themselves in their formalwear can be empowering. He said most of the men they work with are Lewis County residents who usually aren’t comfortable in suits. Once they see themselves, he said, “they’re taken aback by how sharp they look.”
During the pandemic, he said, online shopping surged. Many of the products sold at Bartel’s can be purchased elsewhere online, but he added that getting a well-fitted suit requires the personal touch that coming in the store can provide.
Brady Calder also said that from a community health standpoint, they wanted to be thoughtful about their approach to the COVID-19 restrictions. While it has been a challenging time, both the owners said they have been making it through thanks to a supportive community of people who have purposefully kept coming back to spend their money with Bartel’s.
Since then, they’ve been slowly expanding their reach to customers across Western Washington. The Calders said they regularly serve students from R.A. Long, Mark Morris, Capital, Olympia, Black Hills, North Thurston and Tumwater high schools, along with all the high schools in the greater Lewis County area.
“It’s a rewarding experience in a sense,” said Brady Calder. “It’s not lost on us that it’s just retail, for certain. But, within that scope, that perspective of ‘it’s just retail,’ it’s also a major day. It’s a graduation, it’s a funeral, it’s a wedding. For the most part, it’s a prom. These are major milestones in people’s lives. We really do take that with a lot of responsibility. We only get one chance, so there’s not much room for error.”
Bartel’s is located at 486 N. Market Blvd. in Chehalis. The phone number is 360-748-0277. Learn more on the Bartel’s Facebook page or visit https://tinyurl.com/y4mjebtw.