Let the record show that I dont blame my campaign manager for a crushing defeat in the spring of 1965 when I ran for North Thurston High School class vice-president of the senior class of 1966.
One year ahead of me in school, maybe he had a touch of senioritis that spring. I know he campaigned just as hard as I did, which wasnt very hard.
Weve joked about it now and then over the past 48 years, including late last week when I visited Jerry Ehrlich at Ehrlichs Office Products, a fixture in downtown Olympia since my high school senior year.
We were joined by his wife, Becky, and his older brother and business partner, John Ehrlich, as longtime customers stopped by to say goodbye and workers hauled out the last of the office inventory, which, along with the business, has been sold to Crains Office Supply on Fourth Avenue, one of the last of a vanishing breed of independent office supply companies in the Olympia-Tacoma area.
On Friday, the Ehrlichs will shut down the business at 120 Olympia Avenue, just a stones throw from the Intercity Transit Center and not far from another longtime retail fixture downtown Zeiglers Welding, Inc.
Theyll saunter into their retirement years, leaving behind memories of the challenges they faced trying to keep a family-owned office supply store afloat in the era of big box stores and Internet savvy shoppers.
What theyll miss the most is the lasting friendships theyve had with the 100 or so mainstay customers whove stuck with them through the years.
Weve watched some of our customers children and grandchildren grow up, Becky Ehrlich said.
Long gone are the days when state government offices were major customers: state agencies must purchase their office supplies under one master contract that state has with a corporate vendor.
We used to do a ton of business with the state about 15 percent of our total in the late 1970s, my former campaign manager recalled. Now the state might be 1 percent of our business.
In the pre-internet days, the store inventory was many times what it was in the final years. Heres why: Ehrlichs did business with a wholesale supplier and placed online customer orders filled from a catalogue featuring some 30,000 office supply items.
Our supplier had things delivered to us in less than 24 hours Ehrlich said. And deliveries mean more than just showing up with the goods at the customers door step. If the customer wanted the boxes of printer paper stacked next to the printer, or in a office supply room back by the coffee pot, so be it.
Customer service goes way beyond smiling at the counter, Ehrlich said.
Brothers John and Jerry Ehrlich have worked in the business most of their adult lives, and took over the business from their father more than 25 years ago. Family ties to retail sales of office products in Olympia date back to 1938.
Greg Seals, co-owner of Crains Office Supply, has a similar story to tell. He started as a delivery boy at Griswolds Office Supply in 1979 while still a student at Tumwater High School. He joined Crains Office Supply (it used to be spelled with an apostrophe) as a sales manager in 1985. When the original owners retired in 2010, Greg and Mary Seals bought the business.
Now theyre expanding, rearranging store inventory to accommodate what they bought from the Ehrlichs and bringing the Ehrlichs Office Products name into the fold.
Ive met with most of their top customers, Seals said. I want them to know we care about them just as much as the Ehrlichs did. Theres a striking resemblance between the two businesses theyre both family-owned and both place a high priority on customer service.
Seals said the business has weathered the economic recession, aided in part by a City of Olympia office supply contract they secured in 2011 after outbidding some of the big box chain stores.
So the Ehrlichs can head into retirement assured that their customers will be served well.
Jerry Ehrlich can focus on his lifelong passion for scuba diving. He and Becky live in Hoodsport, not far from a popular Hood Canal dive site. Becky Ehrlich has a pottery studio at their Hoodsport home. Expect her to find more time to throw more pots.
As for older brother John? Once he completes the honey-do list around his Copper Point home, watch for him on the sail boat he keeps at the Olympia Yacht Club.
Me? I think Ill thank my campaign manager for helping me derail my political career before it got started.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com