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Sharon Thompson Davenport Businesswoman Is Lighting A Fire Under Local Economy

Talk about spark. Sharon Thompson can light up the darkest room.

When a local restaurant recently forced the Davenport Chamber of Commerce out of a conference room and into a shadowy bar, president Thompson ran the monthly meeting with the sparkle of a Christmas dinner.

Downing a Styrofoam bowl of soup without complaint, Thompson ignored clinking liquor bottles to conduct serious business such as finding a tree for the upcoming holiday lighting ceremony.

“I’m encouraged,” says Thompson, a business leader in this community 35 miles west of Spokane. “Small towns are becoming more and more attractive. We have real appeal.”

Thompson is the unofficial host of the city, the Martha Stewart of Davenport. Friends rave how Thompson can turn meatloaf into a candlelight banquet and issue cards and calls to people in need.

But she’s also owner of a manufacturing company that produces a creative fire-starter product. At Lightening Nuggets Inc., Thompson dons blue tennis shoes and a floppy shirt to manage a company that generates sales of $450,000 in a good year.

“Sharon has always been congenial and concerned about our citizens, caring for their welfare,” says city clerk Mary Hollis.

Thompson writes a business column twice a month for the Davenport Times, raises money for a new Pioneer Plaza downtown and dreams up ideas for the 80-member chamber to snatch tourists traveling down Highway 2.

Thompson has boosted chamber membership 27 percent, published a city business map and spent her own money attending California seminars on business growth. Calls to the chamber ring in her office.

“Our community has a lot to offer,” the 58-year-old businesswoman says. “If people would come and see, they’d stay a while.”

Thompson has voiced the same praise for Davenport in its darkest hour. Defending the city last year, when high school coach Charles Jungblom was being convicted for running a pornography ring, was one of her most challenging moments.

“A lot of people would fall apart after a thing like that,” says Eleanor MacDonald, former owner of Ellie’s Deli Drive-In and long-time friend of Thompson. “But she is unflappable.”

Thompson’s enthusiasm for Davenport has outlasted the public relations black eye caused by Jungblom and helped keep the city’s economy on track.

Lightening Nuggets is one of the city’s best stories, reflecting Thompson’s relentless optimism for success.

Since founding the company in 1978, Thompson has politely pushed her fire-starting nuggets onto the showrooms and catalog pages of some of the nation’s largest retailers.

“It started with this,” Thompson says, snatching a long, metal ice cream scoop from a nail tacked outside her office.

Thompson found that by mixing wax with the sawdust of pitch stumps and millends, the scoop formed a handy hemispheric nugget that lights easily. Lightweight and sweet-smelling, the nuggets are a handy way for backpackers and homeowners to light campfires, wood stoves and barbecue grills.

Thompson took her invention to Eddie Bauer headquarters in Seattle without an appointment. Company buyers offered little hope to the Lincoln County grandmother, but agreed to display Lightening Nuggets for three days.

On the third day, they called back for more nuggets.

“They had sold every one!” Thompson exclaims, noting that Eddie Bauer continues to be her biggest customer.

Thompson’s Lightening Nuggets, and a marble-sized pellet-stove product called Lightening Bugs, also are sold through Eagle Hardware and Garden, Ziggy’s and several national mail-order catalogs.

The first sample nugget is free, Thompson says. A box of 100 sells for $19, or 19 cents each. The company sells 20 different quantities and gift containers of nuggets.

With the peak heating season ahead, Lightening Bug’s seven part- and full-time workers are stamping out 18,000 nuggets a day, Thompson says. The mixing process, which is handled in a warehouse along the Davenport railroad tracks, consumes 30 tons of wax a year.

As pallets of Lightening Nuggets wait to be shipped, Thompson says it may be time to hang up her scoop and sell the company.

“Somebody younger, with fresh ideas needs to be doing this,” she says, scrambling to change shoes for the chamber lunch. “Then it could really take off.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo