The Jensen-Byrd Co. has had a long history in Spokane and former salesman Don Mittelstadt was there for 47 years of it.
Mittelstadt, who turns 93 in July, got a job at the company at age 18 after he graduated from Lewis and Clark High School.
“Scott Jensen hired me for 75 cents an hour,” he said. “I filled orders and worked on the price desk.”
The company’s name can still be seen on buildings in downtown Spokane. There’s a six-story building near the WSU Spokane campus where Mittelstadt attended sales meetings, plus two buildings side by side in the 300 block of West Riverside Avenue.
“When I first started working there, I was on the retail floor down on Riverside,” Mittelstadt said.
Mittelstadt found a career working for the company that once made a lot of its money selling horseshoe nails. According to the company website, what was once Jensen, Brooke and Co. was started in 1883 in Sprague, Washington, by O.C. Jensen, an immigrant from Denmark, and Henry Brooke. The company moved to Spokane in 1896 after a fire devastated the town of Sprague. After mergers and buyouts, it became the Jensen-Byrd Co. in 1925.
The company sold 150,000 items, everything from plumbing hardware to sporting goods to guns – “Everything the hardware stores carried,” Mittelstadt said.
It was Mittelstadt’s job to sell items to the local hardware stores and other businesses. He recalls visiting many downtown businesses, including the Bon Marche, Woolworths, The Crescent department store and the J.J. Newberry Store. He recalls selling glass to John W. Graham and Co., which needed it for picture frames. He always carried a catalogue of items that Jensen-Byrd sold that he estimates weighed more than 20 pounds.
“I carried that up and down Main Avenue,” he said.
There are three certificates hanging on his wall that mark the years he was a member of the company’s Millionaires Club for salesmen who sold more than $1 million worth of goods.
“I was the first salesman at Jensen-Byrd to sell a million dollars,” he said.
It was a good company to work for, Mittelstadt said.
“Every two years they gave us a new car and you could use it as your own,” he said. “Every Christmas they’d give you a bonus. I used to buy all my Christmas stuff down at The Crescent. That was the best store.”
He became close to several of the co-workers he met over the decades. He’s still in touch with a friend who used to sell industrial equipment for Jensen-Byrd.
“He calls me every now and then,” he said. “I met a lot of my friends there. There’s very few of us left.”
Mittelstadt also served in the Navy Reserves for 17 years as a cook, but was never called up for active duty.
“Every year I’d go for two weeks,” he said. “I was on a lot of ships.”
Along the way he met Leeola Jean Anderson, whom he married in 1950. The couple raised two sons and two daughters, settling in a home on 39th Avenue that he still lives in.
“The house was the first house in this area,” he said. “I’ve got pictures of my wife picking up rocks out back.”
Mittelstadt and his wife added several grandchildren and great-grandchildren to their family before she died in 2017.
“I miss her something terrible,” he said. “She was a good woman, the best I’d ever get.”
Mittelstadt enjoys looking through his keepsakes from his time at Jensen-Byrd.
A few years after he retired, the company changed its name to Jensen Distribution Services. It maintained an office space on Riverside Avenue, but its distribution center and warehouse had moved to the West Plains in 1987. The company was purchased by Ace Hardware in 2015.
“I’ve got a lot of good memories,” he said. “I had a good life.”
Nina Culver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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