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‘Treasures and memories’: White Elephant’s final day

UPDATED: Mon., July 27, 2020

On the White Elephant’s final day in business Sunday, family, friends, employees and longtime customers came to share stories and take home memorabilia.

The store closed its final location for good after 74 years in business. The business was founded as an Army surplus store in 1946 by John Conley Sr.

Day to day operations were passed down to Richard “Rich” Conley and Pat Conley, while their mother Mary Conley, 91, remained co-owner. 

Rich Conley said his 13-year-old grandson summed up what the store meant best.

“It’s more about the relationship and the kinship here, it wasn’t so much about the business,” Rich said.

Rich’s wife, Mary Conley said the biggest testament to that was the first few days of their going-out-of-business sale.

“It wasn’t about the percentage off or what’s for sale,” she said. “It wasn’t about our sales or our numbers, it was about their story.”

The Conley family, which has grown to over 115 people, according to Mary, gathered on Sunday to chat with customers and say goodbye to the family business.

Richard “Rick” Conley Jr. came from Baltimore to bid farewell to the store where he started helping behind the counter at just 7 years old.

Rick Conley wasn’t tall enough to see over the counter then, so his grandfather, founder John Conley, got him a step stool.

Rick’s son, 10-year-old Ricky, formally Richard Conley III, was running around the store with his cousins on Sunday.

Katie Mustered has been working at the White Elephant for the past 15-years with her father, Rich. Her husband, Willie, managed the Spokane Valley location until it closed earlier this month.

Mustered was nervous to tell her kids about the store’s closure.

“I figured out how kind of sheltered they were about toys when we told them that the store was closing, because they thought they would never get a toy again because the only toy store was going away,” Mustered said.

Once the kids realized they would still have new toys, the sadness of the store’s closure wore off a bit, Mustered said.

Mustered and her husband are off to their “whole new adventure” of working outside the family business, something that the family’s matriarch, Mary Conley Sr., is excited about.

“She wants family time instead of family business time,” said Mary Conley Jr.

Mary and Rich are excited to catch up with their grandchildren, five of whom were running around the store Sunday.

“We’re missing soccer games and baseball games and junior livestock shows, all this stuff we’re going to be involved in,” Rich Conley said.

The entire Conley family has a love for people, something 13-year-old Keegan Mertens said came from his great-grandpa John, who died in 2017.

But “Grandpa John’s” presence was felt Sunday, his daughters agreed.

“Dad would have loved to be here,” said Mary Beth Conley Mealey. “It’s emotional. It’s happy and sad at the same time.”

Emotional is how many of the White Elephant’s final customers felt, too.

Carly and Cindy Beltz have been shopping at both of the White Elephant’s locations since before they moved to Idaho decades ago.

Cindy Beltz was born and raised in Sacramento and came to Spokane for the first time to visit her nephew, who had recently moved to the area.

“We came up, fell in love with Spokane. First place he took us was White Elephant on Sprague,” Cindy Beltz said. “I bought so much I had to ship it home for my four kids, I had to ship it home.”

For years, every time the family visited Spokane the White Elephant was their first stop.

“We came to the White Elephant, you had to hit both in one day,” Cindy Beltz said.

When the Beltzes found out the White Elephant was closing, it was emotional.

“When it was going out of business, my wife broke down and cried,” Carl Beltz said.

The couple drove up Saturday from Kellogg, Idaho, where they now live, for a final shop, but ended up returning on Sunday.

Cindy Beltz said she loves classic Winchester memorabilia, which is hard to find unless it’s at the White Elephant. On Sunday her prized purchase was a Winchester poster she planned to frame, signed by Rich Conley.

“I said ‘please’ and (Rich) goes ‘gladly,’ ” she said of asking the owner to sign the poster. “So this will be framed, this is now special special.”

“This is what was so special about White Elephant, they had stuff you can’t find anywhere else,” Cindy Beltz said. “And you came here and you cherished it.”

Her most cherished purchases over the years were “anything with a White Elephant logo.”

“It’s treasure you find here,” she said. “Treasures and memories.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the White Elephant is co-owned by Mary Conley Sr while being operated by Pat and Rich Conley. Daughter, Mary Beth Conley Mealey’s name was also corrected as was the year of her father, John R. Conley Sr.’s death in 2017. 

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