The town’s dentist is gone, as is the hardware store, and now Fairfield’s only grocery store is closing.
The shelves are starting to empty at Kelley’s Thrift grocery store as owner Rick Kelley prepares to close the business for good in the next two weeks.
Kelley, 62, said he’s closing because he can’t make a living anymore. The problem, he said, is that most Fairfield residents do their grocery shopping in Spokane Valley. They only stop in his store if they’ve forgotten something or run out of an ingredient. “A lot of people work in town, so they shop in town,” he said. “It kept dwindling. At one time there were more families in the area.”
There are a few loyal customers who do their shopping there, Kelley said. “I’m really sorry to turn them away,” he said. Already the store is out of bread, milk and eggs. “Those were the first things to go. I haven’t been buying anything.”
The equipment that keeps his coolers and freezers running is outdated, resulting in high electric and water bills, Kelley said. Two part-time checkers help Kelley and his wife, Magdalena, run the store.
The shelves show an impressive variety of wares – everything from dog biscuits to diapers to greeting cards. Kelley also stocks canning jars and seeds. “Maybe that was my problem,” he said. “I had too much of a variety.”
Kelley considered closing about 10 years ago, but was saved by support from the town. “The community convinced me they could help me and keep me going, but that’s slowly dwindled,” he said. “At one time we were the biggest little store in southern Spokane County.”
The store is not just a business to Kelley. When he was a student at Liberty High School he worked there as a box boy. His father worked there as a meat cutter before buying the store in the early 1970s. Kelley took over the business from his father in 1973 after he returned from a stint in the U.S. Navy. His parents wanted to retire so they could travel, but his father suffered a heart attack in the store and died shortly after Kelley took over, Kelley said.
“My children grew up around here and helped some, but the grocery business wasn’t in their blood,” he said. “It’s probably a good thing.”
Once the store closes the only options for groceries besides traveling to Spokane or Spokane Valley are gas station convenience stores in Rockford and Freeman.
Longtime customer George Keno has lived in the area for 88 years. He stopped by the store Wednesday to pick up chips and dip. “It’s nice to have a place where you can get a few things,” he said.
Keno said his wife likes to do the grocery shopping in Spokane, though he is fine with staying closer to home. “I’d sure like to see it stay,” he said of the store.
Kim Fields runs a hair salon next to the store and stops in every morning to buy a Monster energy drink. She does most of her shopping in Spokane because she’s a vegetarian, she said. Still, she’s sad to see the store closing.
“It’ll be strange,” Fields said. “They’re a fixture. I’m used to seeing the bank people walk by to get their lunch.”
Fields’ chair was occupied by Sandy Jamison, who was born and raised in Fairfield. “This used to be a booming town,” she said. “There used to be a blacksmith.”
It will be hard to see another vacant building downtown, Jamison said. “It’s becoming a ghost town,” she said.
Kelley said he’s not sure what he’s going to do after shutting down the store since he can’t afford to retire. He jokes that he’ll be asking around for anyone who needs an ex-grocer. “I can stock shelves and carry out groceries,” he said.
Kelley said he’s had a couple of people express interest in the store but he hasn’t received any offers. “I definitely am hoping someone would buy it,” he said. “The community needs a store. It’s going to need some new blood and some new ideas.”