Some customers burst into tears, and some said they were inspired to become teachers after visiting the store.
That was just a bit of the community reaction after the owners of School Daze in west Olympia recently announced they were closing their longtime educational supplies business. It will remain open through the end of December.
“It’s nice to know we made an impact,” said Shirley Neufeld, who started the business with her husband, Cliff, in Longview in 1979.
Longview wasn’t big enough and the economy wasn’t strong enough to sustain the business, so they moved it to Olympia in 1981. It was slow going in Olympia at first — it would take five years before the owners made any money — but eventually the business found an audience of teachers and parents.
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They opened a second location in Tacoma in 1985 and soon their daughter, Wendy, and her husband, Jerry England, would become involved with the business. Wendy and Jerry finally bought School Daze about eight years ago. Shirley stayed on to do the books. At its peak, the two stores employed about 20 part-time employees, including teachers who helped out and shared their knowledge about educational supplies.
And then the Great Recession happened, followed by the rise of the Internet and a younger generation more inclined to do business digitally. The stores always had a catalog of supplies, and the owners were willing to order for their customers, but it didn’t seem to be fast enough for some of them, Shirley said. School curricula changed, too.
The Tacoma store closed in 2013 and now the 3,500-square-foot Olympia store will say goodbye next month.
Big sellers over the years included classroom decorations; stickers and other items to reward students; resource books for teachers; and the always popular butcher paper — the kind of paper cheerleaders hold as the football team on Friday night crashes through the thin barrier to storm the field.
Through the end of December, many items at the store will be discounted 20 percent to 50 percent.
So what’s next for Cliff, Jerry, Wendy and Shirley?
Cliff has retired, Jerry works for the state Department of Transportation and Wendy hasn’t decided what her next step will be. Shirley will retire, too.
“I’m through with the working side of my life,” she said.
It was a good run for School Daze. The family-owned business outlived two similar businesses in west Olympia: Office Depot and Office Max.
Current owners: Jerry and Wendy England.
Former owners: Cliff and Shirley Neufeld.
Location: 400 Cooper Point Road SW, Suite 18, Olympia, WA.
Years in business: Business dates to 1979 in Longview.
Type of business: Educational supplies retailer.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
Did you know? Cliff, Shirley, Wendy and Jerry all have some connection to education. Cliff is a former elementary school principal. Shirley used to teach third grade in Salem, Oregon and Edmonds. Wendy used to teach in the Olympia School District, and Jerry worked in facilities for the same district for 12 years.