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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Toppenish craft business closes after 52 years of supplying Indigenous artists

Hope Chest Crafts owners Merlin Peterson, left, and Denice Peterson, right, give hugs to regular customers Amy Blodgett, left, and Rena McGeshick, right, during their store closing sale Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Toppenish, Wash. The Petersons plan to retire after closing the store on Dec. 15.  (Evan Abell/Yakima Herald-Republic)
By Tammy Ayer Yakima Herald-Republic

TOPPENISH – Though the shelves at Hope Chest Crafts were almost empty, Jeannette York still found some good deals during a recent visit. She also enjoyed seeing the owners, Denice and Merlin Peterson.

“My mom’s been coming here for about 30 years. … It’s a really friendly place. My mom’s a big fabric buyer,” York said of Juanita York. Even after her mother was in an accident and had to use a walker, she kept going to Hope Chest Crafts when she could.

The Petersons asked about her mother, and Jeannette went to get her. Mother and daughter talked with the Petersons before hugs and well-wishes for their future as they retire and close the store on Dec. 15 after 52 years as a family-owned business.

“I’m going to miss it,” but “they’ve got to go have their fun, too,” Jeannette said.

A store-closing sale has drawn increasing numbers of customers to the craft store at 508 W. Second Ave. But many recent visitors, like Jeannette, also came to see the Petersons and tell them how much they’ve appreciated them over the years.

“We love you guys,” Amy Blodgett told them after she and Rena McGeshick found their own deals and hugged the Petersons.

“We’re here all the time. It’s just a sad moment,” Amy said. “It was our candy store.”

Generations of artists

Hope Chest Crafts has been the “go-to place” of Indigenous people on the Yakama Reservation and in the region for fabrics and ribbon for wing dresses, ribbon shirts and other traditional attire, regalia and accessories. Generations of Indigenous artists have gone there for glass and plastic beads and other beading materials and tools, yarn and craft cord for wa’paas baskets and other items such as fringe, feathers and buckskin.

“We’ve listened over the years for what they need,” Denice said. Along with learning from their customers and stocking their store with what they sought along with all kinds of arts and crafts supplies and party decorations, greeting cards, books and more, the Petersons tried to keep prices low and quality high.

They’re ready to leave the demands of running a small business, which has changed in recent years with supply chain frustrations and decreasing quality, Denice said. But they’ll miss the rich social life their cozy store has provided.

Sometimes people would come in seeking prayer – the Petersons’ faith is an important part of their lives – or offering prayer. One man who visited the same day as the Yorks stood with the Petersons and prayed for them and their future. All became emotional.

“We’re going to miss everybody, too. We’ve known generations,” Denice said.

Though they’re retiring, the Petersons aren’t moving. They will stay in their massive historic home, known as the Bolin mansion because it was built by Maud and Charles Bolin in 1911. The craft store has been attached to it since 1976.

Denice’s mother, Jeanne Winterfeld, is 94 and lives next to the mansion. Jeanne and Bob Winterfeld bought the craft store’s predecessor, Hope Chest Variety Store in Toppenish, in 1971. They had been married 69 years when he died in November 2020.

The Winterfelds married in Medina, Ohio. How did they end up in Toppenish?

“He just was adventurous,” Denice said of her dad.

Midwestern transplants

Adventurous indeed. For those who grow up east of the Mississippi River, the western half of the United States can seem like another country, vast and obscured by mythology. Bob Winterfeld was born in Ohio, graduated from high school there and left to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. After coming home he worked for several years as a technical writer in engineering for General Motors in Cleveland, writing manuals for military vehicles.

As he and Jeanne’s family grew to include six children, Bob kept adding on to their house, which he constructed. He was “an avid do-it-yourselfer,” according to his obituary, and was fondly known as “build-it Bob,” his daughter said.

His expertise with a skill saw came in handy after he and Jeanne and their kids fit as many carefully chosen belongings as they could into a big panel truck and headed from Valley City, which is near Cleveland, to Toppenish in the summer of 1971.

They needed a big house and build-it Bob saw opportunities in the Bolin mansion. His obituary describes it as “the ultimate fixer-upper,” and some may have called that an understatement. While grand in size and silhouette, the massive house made of molded concrete blocks had sat empty for several years and had suffered vandalism, broken pipes, ruined plaster and other structural and architectural indignities.

“’Pioneer’ family roughs it in Toppenish’s Bolin mansion,” headlined a story about their “giant renovating project” in a September 1971 Toppenish Review. It’s among many newspaper clippings, photos and other ephemera about the Bolin mansion filling a large scrapbook.

The Winterfelds worked to make the mansion their home as they began running the Hope Chest Variety Store. Bob had learned from a national real estate firm that Gil Burns was selling it. The information made it sound like the buyer would get the variety store business and its building, Denice said. It sounded like a great deal.

Turned out that the Winterfelds bought only the business. But they liked Toppenish and settled into that business with friendly enthusiasm. It began with “get-acquainted specials” on inflatable pools (While They Last!) with a 40-by-8-inch pool costing 99 cents and a 60-by-12-inch pool available for $1.99, according to a July 1971 newspaper advertisement saved with many others in another scrapbook.

“A Variety Store For A Variety of People. Everything For Babies And So Much More!!” a December 1971 newspaper ad declared. “Arts & Crafts – A Special Section! Baby Furniture – Largest Selection In The Lower Valley. Miscellaneous – A Lot Of Many Things!!”

Bob and Jeanne decided in the mid-1970s to split Hope Chest Variety Store into the variety store and an arts and crafts store. He built an addition to the back of the Bolin mansion to house Hope Chest Crafts, using molded concrete blocks similar to those used for the house and installing a small parking lot.

Hope Chest Crafts opened in 1976.

“The craft part of the business was really growing. It was macrame and decoupage – I did lots of classes in macrame,” Denice said. There was also tole painting, chenille and fake fur animals and cool cross-stitching, among other groovy popular crafts of the 1970s.

The variety store stayed in its downtown location, but not for long. It closed in late 1977 after the building sold.

‘Good luck you guys’

Hope Chest Crafts became a community destination. Jeanne wrote a “Crafty Corner” column for the Toppenish Review, the store offered lessons galore and the Winterfelds sent newsletters with information about classes, demonstrations and other special events.

“We wish to thank all who participated and also appreciated the nice comments many had about our store,” the January 1979 newsletter said, naming winners of the store’s second anniversary drawing. “We will continue to try our best to supply your craft needs with quality merchandise at the lowest possible price.”

One memorable evening, Hope Chest Crafts hosted two large craft groups simultaneously in a “midnight madness” event. People didn’t leave until about 2 a.m., Merlin said.

Merlin joined the Peterson family when he and Denice married on Dec. 17, 1983. They raised their two daughters in the Bolin mansion. Both served in the military. Beaded medallions with their branches of service hang on Christmas trees inside the house, along with other beadwork given to them by friends.

There are so many friends. Over and over, they offered well-wishes and hugs. Good luck you guys, they said. God bless you.

“We enjoyed all of you,” Merlin said. “Thank you for coming all these years,” Denice added.

The Petersons aren’t sure what they will do with the craft store space. As for retirement adventures, no cruises for them. “We’re just more into the hiking. Washington is beautiful,” she said.