Packwood’s Only Grocery Store Changes Hands, But Local Charm to Persist

Community Hub: Blanton’s Hiker Pitstop, Community Market Now Under NW Supermarkets, Inc.

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By the way Hal Blanton walks through Packwood’s only grocery store — Blanton’s Market — you’d think he still owns the place.

When The Chronicle caught up with him this week, Blanton strolled through the store, fist-bumping and joshing with nearly every customer, all of whom welcomed his familiar face.

In reality, Hal and Tracey Blanton sold their market this month, handing it over to Northwest Supermarkets Inc., a family-owned business operating eight other small West Coast markets.

“We’ve been at this for 40 years, and really it’s just a different season in life, and it’s time to go. We’ve got grandkids to see and other places to visit. It was just the right time,” Hal told The Chronicle.

The connection with Northwest Supermarkets was serendipitous, with Vice President Linda Marcott saying the company was searching for “good, community stores in small towns that serve a diverse group of people.”

“We were given their information, came by the store, checked it out … one thing led to another,” she said Wednesday at the store.

The most common question recently posed to Marcott is whether the market’s name will change.

“We have no intention of going away from the Blanton’s name. It’s an important name in the community, and they’ve done a lot to service this community,” she said.

Standing nearby, store director and Blanton’s employee of 16 years Chris Falk cheerily interjected: “I told you people like you.”

The Blantons are involved in Packwood beyond just running the town’s grocery store. The couple is involved in their local church, and Hal listed a number of other organizations that he dedicates time to: the Packwood Improvement Club, monthly business owner meetings, the Timberland Library Board and the Packwood Cultural Council.

So the signs emblazoned with the Blantons’ name outside — situated between the larger-than-life logger chainsaw sculpture and the Packwood Inn — will remain.

And so will much of the market’s charm.

The store — which blossomed from the business ventures of two “Harolds” in the Blanton family — has become a unique part of the unincorporated town of Packwood, a tight-knit community and picturesque destination for tourists.

Blanton’s Market is the perfect pit stop for hikers trekking up the West Coast via the Pacific Crest Trail, which crosses U.S. Highway 12 nearby.

It makes for interesting conversation, Falk said, although sometimes “they need a shower.”

“They have stories to tell. And they forge friendships on this trail and then they sit here. It’s pretty interesting,” she said.

Blanton’s Market has also put on decades of customer appreciation breakfasts, an annual tradition that can feed hundreds of people in just a few hours.

There are no major changes in the works for Blanton’s Market, according to Marcott.

“We go into stores and we kind of let the employees and the community tell us … we’ll do things that we feel the community and employees told us are good,” she said, adding that Northwest Supermarkets is interested in bringing in more natural and local products.

“Let me toot their horn a little bit,” Hal said. “We just feel real comfortable this would be a good transition for our community and for our business … They’ve got eight other stores that they have perspective on in communities similar to ours.”

Their big-picture perspective and resources, he noted, will mean products previously “unknown to us” may soon fill the shelves.

Plus, Packwood is growing. A community-wide sewer system has many residents excited for incoming residents and businesses.

“If there was a time for transition, this really is the time for it,” Hal said.

Although the Blantons have left the helm, Packwood can still expect to see them around. When asked what’s on the horizon for the couple now, Hal didn’t mention any vacations. Instead, he’ll be here working to organize the Packwood’s Saturdays Fireside Music events.