We sometimes receive requests by Facebook readers to post about certain South Whidbey places. This request was for the stores at Maxwelton.
The earliest photo we have is of the Maxwelton Grocery store and post office that was located near the end of the wooden dock that was built for the Chautauqua in 1910.
Two more stores followed: in the 1930s, the Sea Shell, and in the 1940s, the Cross Country Store.
The following article was written by Lorinda Kay in 1987 and appeared in the South Whidbey Record…
ERA ENDS WITH CLOSING OF COUNTRY STORE
After half a century of serving the small community, the Maxwelton Store will be closing its door for the last time on March 15, giving up a long struggle to survive the changing times.
Owners Gerry and Karen Lutz had to make a difficult decision to close the store after three years of not making any profit.
“We work over 70 hours a week and still see no profit, which makes us wonder why we’re in business,” Gerry said, adding that they looked at other options, such as selling the store.
But Karen added that they could not honestly tell a prospective buyer that they could make any money at the business.
The influx of larger stores that can offer better prices has made neighborhood stores like Maxwelton unable to compete.
The big supermarkets, for example, can offer soft drinks at prices lower than wholesale for the Maxwelton Store. “We can’t compete with those prices,” Gerry said.
“The Mom and Pop stores are a thing of the past,” Gerry said. “I guess it’s a sign of the times.”
The history of the store goes back to the 1930’s when Julia Cross opened the store after her first husband’s death.
Cross’s daughter, Geraldine Miller, was born at Maxwelton and remembers the store when it was called the Sea Shell and hand-dipped ice cream was among the favorite items.
In those early days the store had a single counter and heavy drop leaf door used to lock the store at night. A small porch on the front had tables and chairs for sitting.
In the 1940’s a larger store was built, and the name was changed to the Cross Country Store.
Geraldine remembers when her mother used to fill orders for fresh meat by walking, sometimes over two miles, to buy chickens she had to kill and butcher.
Cross also offered fresh milk from a local farm owned by her grandfather, Peter Howard Mackie, which until recently continued to operate as a dairy farm.
Cross operated the store until 1947 when it was sold to the Reynolds, who added a restaurant to the store. In all, six owners have run the store, which was a hub of the Maxwelton community.
One regular customer of the store for over 30 years is Everett Green, who was born at Maxwelton in 1918.
“It was quite a treat to have pop and ice cream at the store after getting warmed up at the ball games,” Everett said.
In the early years on Saturday afternoons everyone from 8 to 80 would gather at the Maxwelton Park to play baseball.
“It was a Saturday afternoon tradition,” Everett said, adding that the front porch of the old store was “where I learned to swallow pop in one gulp.”
When the Sea Shell, which was only open in the summer, was later expanded to a regular grocery store and gas station in the 1940’s, Everett was a regular shopper.
“We bought everything there,” he said. “It was the only store we went to for years.”
That was the years before the big supermarkets opened. Then the closest stores were in Clinton or Langley.
The little grocery has continued to be a center for information, according to Karen, whose cheerful nature invites a conversation.
Whether it is an item to buy or sell, folks in Maxwelton come to the little store for information. New births or notices of death are always posted on the store’s bulletin board. When a community neighbor dies it is like the passing of an old family friend, according to Karen.
People who are accustomed to the neighborhood grocery store were surprised to hear it was closing.
“They usually say, ‘You’re kidding!’ when we tell them we’re closing,” Gerry said. “But they’re very understanding when we explain why.”
Some people have wondered where they are going to shop for those little last-minute items.
“We tell them to support Bailey’s Corner,” Karen said. “I hope one little store in the area remains open.”
The couple has grown to love the Maxwelton community and their neighbors. They have developed a lot of friendships they do not want to lose. For these reasons, they have decided to continue to live at Maxwelton in their house next to the store.
“If we had to close the business and move, it would break my heart,” Karen said.
“It’s sad we have to close the business,” Gerry added. “But, when you close one door another opens.”
One door that will open is time off together, which the couple saw little of during the three years of running the store. The only days the store closed were Christmas and Easter.
“We have time to travel and go fishing,” Karen said, explaining that they have not even been able to take walks together on the beach.
The last week of business all the inventory in the store will be marked down from 30 to 50 percent. The store will also have new hours starting Wednesday, and will close at 6 p.m. instead of the usual 7: 30 p.m.
The Maxwelton store will be missed by many people who will have further to go to get air in their tires or to buy those few needed items. Gerry and Karen will miss their customers loo, including the gentleman who comes in daily to buy his newspaper and visit with them.
Those who do not live in the area will miss the store when they come to play at the baseball field or to the annual Fourth of July parade.
Gerry and Karen are typical of the store owners who feel the small local stores are doomed lo be replaced by larger, centralized grocery stores, highway oriented convenience stores and shopping malls. But it is a fate this couple can live with.
“This is only a business,” Gerry said. “Businesses come and go. Our friends we could not replace.”