Orchards Feed embraces future and past

Owner will preserve 124-year-old original building following major expansion

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter



Orchards Feed

What: Vancouver-based retailer specializing in pet, farm and garden supplies.

Owner: Loren Carlson.

Employees: Seven.

Where: 10902 N.E. Rosewood Ave., Vancouver.

What's New?: The company recently opened a 22,000-square-foot store next door to its 124-year-old feed mill.

What's next?: Grand re-opening event on Oct. 12-13.

Web: Orchards Feed

In the Orchards community, where changes are making everything new, some people want to hold onto the old and familiar roots of the area's rural past.

Orchards Feed store owner Loren Carlson knows that historic connection is symbolized by the old wooden feed mill that served the agricultural-turned-suburan community for more than a century. That's why he is keeping the weathered, 124-year-old building even as his business expands into a multi-building complex, located at Northeast Covington Road and Rosewood Avenue, that includes a brand new feed store building and a retail nursery. Carlson intends to preserve the old, weathered building, despite its limited space for his growing business to compete in sales of farm, garden and pet supplies.

The six-acre property is anchored by Orchards Feed's new 22,000-square-foot store, which opened in July to accommodate the company's core pet food sales. The business annually sells more than $1 million in pet food, carrying brands such as Natural Choice, Nutri Source and Pure Vita, Carlson said.

"We've expanded our product lines," he said, in a focused strategy to compete with the area's growing collection of national retail chain stores.

Over the summer, Orchards Feed also added a nursery, afterhaving accepted longtime Vancouver plant retailer Cascade Greenhouse's offer to merge with his business. And so many people asked him about the fate of the original Orchards Feed building that Carlson decided to keep the structure, even though he hasn't decided yet how he will use it.

Carlson, a third-generation Orchards resident who has owned the business since 1989, understands the community's bond to the old feed mill, built in 1889. That emotional connection prompted similar design elements in his new store, said Carlson. He plans to keep the business as relevant to today's suburban farmers as it was to those in the late 19th century.

And there's still plenty of shelf space to add an entirely different category, which could include hardware, horse tack or lines of Western-style and farm-style apparel.

"Our goal is simply expansion," said Carlson, 50, who grew up just a few miles away from the feed store. His father worked for Orchards Feed in the 1930s.

The new and much larger store's hitching-post-style fencing wraps around its exterior veranda and a timber-framed porch identifies its entrance. Wood and metal railing line the store's second-floor, open selling space. Its central service counter on the ground floor is overhung by a huge, iron wagon wheel suspended from the store's sky-lit ceiling.

"Our biggest concern was to keep the same feeling," he said. "It's kind of our philosophy because it (the old building) is where the business started (nearly) 125 years ago." he said.

Connection to past

Carlson realized about 15 years back that the older building couldn't properly serve its new suburban customer base and compete with the national retailers that were moving in nearby. He and his wife, Christie Carlson, dreamed of a larger store for Orchards Feed with wide shopping aisles, a loading dock and space for displays.

In the tiny, original feed store, "if we got 10 people in the store, it was elbow to elbow," Loren Carlson said. "We either needed to go big or go home," he said.

So, Carlson planned ahead, purchasing additional parcels of land around the old feed mill. The planning was helped along by an $8.5 million road realignment in 2005. Before the work, Covington Road went right past the old feed store's front door, leaving barely enough clearance for customers to safely back up their pickups to the loading dock.

The realignment left the old feed store a bit off the beaten path after the road construction, which rerouted Covington Road to the west and improved the intersection at Fourth Plain Boulevard and Covington/Gher Road.

Carlson used the opportunity to acquire vacant land parcels between Covington Road and the old feed store. His six-acre spread now commands the entire northeast corner of the intersection. The Orchards Feed site includes parking, the old and new stores, a hay storage building and space for the nursery business. Carlson plans to add at least two hoop-style greenhouses.

He also plans to let customers continue shopping in the old, weathered feed store building, and will perhaps use it as a sales floor for farm-style gift items and décor. The old building still contains the old-fashioned milling equipment used to clean and grind raw grain into the feed once sold to the long-ago farmers who pulled up in horse-drawn wagons.

"We were once told the building was the oldest business building that was still doing business in Clark County," Carlson said. The Orchards Feed store business was spawned by the old wooden structure and continues to evolve, he said. Carlson hopes one day to pass Orchards Feed on to his children, Josh, 17, and Emily, 15.

"We're pretty unique for the Northwest," Carlson said. "There's not that many stores doing what we're doing."

A grand re-opening event is set for the weekend of Oct. 12-13.

Cami Joner: 360-735-4532, http://twitter.com/camijoner; http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/strictly-business, or cami.joner@columbian.com