Friends and customers dropped by Cavanaugh Ace Hardware Saturday afternoon for a last look at a business most people had assumed would always be a part of downtown Auburn.
They embraced owners Pat and Jan Cavanaugh, and tears welled up in more than a few eyes.
“This is the end of 121 years of continuous family business,” Pat Cavanaugh said. “Every day I talk to at least three people who say how sorry they are we are going. They wonder how there can be a downtown without a Cavanaughs.”
“An awful lot of people have come in to say goodbye, and we really appreciate that,” said Jan Cavanaugh. “I’ve only cried three times, and that’s good for me.”
Roger Olson, who worked for the Cavanaughs for six years, shook his head.
“Basically, we are seeing a family-run business that’s in the fourth generation just going down. And whether that’s for economic reasons or because of a bad business venture, it is very sad,” Olson said.
Sam Cavanaugh launched his store in 1887 in Kent – then Titusville – and moved to Auburn in 1896. His children and his children’s children kept the hardware store going through two world wars, a family feud, and a Great Depression. But delays to Project Ace, the Cavanaugh’s never-built five-story hotel, water park condominium and retail project, and the financial machinations of their development partner, Ben Errez, helped kill the store, which has been in the southwest corner of the parking garage for two years.
Recently the Cavanaughs got a piece of rare good news when they won a $2.4 million interim award in arbitration against Errez and his Plan B Development. But the news came too late to save the hardware store.
“We have been living knowing things weren’t right for a year and had suspicions that things weren’t going well for a year before that,” said Pat. “There were a lot of sleepless nights, wondering if grandpa and grandma and my mom and dad would hop out of their graves and whether we could possibly get out of this.”
“Cavanaugh Ace Hardware has been such a critical part of the history of the town,” said Dan Shields, a close friend of the Cavanaugh family since 1977. “I am hoping Pat and Jan will come out of it whole, but I doubt they can. We’ll see.”
Paul Nelson and his not-for-profit Spoken Word Lab (SPLAB!) were tenants in the Cavanaugh-owned building that once stood at 15 S. Division St., where the parking garage, the
only part of Project Ace that was ever built, is today.
“There seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel,” Nelson said of the $2.4 million award. “I am very, very pleased about that. People like Pat and Jan Cavanaugh deserve better than what happened to them. Now there’s hope that all their finances are not going to end up being sucked away by a bad deal from some man who acted without integrity. Now there is hope they are going to come out of this with something.”
Store manager Mindy Campbell said nearly all of the employees have found a job at McLendon’s Hardware. Even the store cat, 17-year-old Cleo, has a new home. A woman in Burien has adopted her.
“I have been here eight years and have grown close to Pat and Jan. It’s hard. We’re so small, and everyone is so close. I kept trying to be optimistic about it, but at one point the writing was on the wall,” Campbell said through tears.
Along the aisles were blow ups of old black-and-white photographs chronicling the store’s and Auburn’s intertwined history: an image of the store’s new New Fuller Paint section in 1932; a brand new hop house, circa 1886; the hardware store with a clerk at the counter in 1908.
Jan said Mayor Pete Lewis has assured her and Pat that their extensive historical collection of photographs and artifacts will find a home in any future downtown development in which the city is involved. A working hardware store and museum was supposed to be part of Project Ace.
“This puts us into a kind of retirement mode,” Pat said. “We will still stay active in the community. We are not moving away. We live in Lake Tapps, but Auburn is our home.”
“We will be busy with litigation for a long time I’m afraid,” said Jan. “But we’re headed in the right direction. We’ve got the judgement against Ben, and our lawyer feels very strongly that that is going to help us.”
Michelle Moore, one of Pat and Jan Cavanaugh’s daughters, found an especially painful irony in the way the store ended.
“If you go all the way back to when my great-great grandfather started this store, he bought a store and all its contents, then got inside and found out all the boxes and all the drawers were empty,” Moore said. “Someone tried to swindle him like my parents have been swindled now. But the Cavanaugh family always kept it going.”