TOLEDO - In recent months, Toledo's downtown area has suffered several shocks. First, a Christmas Day fire destroyed a historic, block-long building that housed an antiques store, museum and used bookstore. Last month, the pharmacy closed. And now the hardware store is selling out its inventory.
At the Toledo Senior Center on Tuesday, these misfortunes had some people, such as Allen Trafton, concerned about the heart of the 129-year-old small town on the Cowlitz River.
“We hope that it can survive,” Trafton said of his hometown of 65 years. “I would miss it if the town falls apart.”
But don’t count Toledo down for the count, its mayor says.
“I know we can come out of it,” Mayor Jerry Pratt said. “We’re a tough town. We’ve been here since 1882, and we’ll prove we won’t be kept down for long.”
Pratt and others have organized “Vision: Toledo,” a grassroots group to revitalize the town.
“It’s coming from citizens who grew up here, who graduated from here,” said Pratt, who has been mayor for seven years.
Toledo Hardware owner Nick Delin, who is liquidating all his inventory, said he was reluctant to shut down the store, which has been in business more than 40 years. But the sagging economy has made it tough to turn a profit in the two and a half years he has owned it, he said.
“We were trying to see if the hardware store would fly, but it wasn’t pulling its weight,” he said. “For the most part, we’re shutting down, but not sure if it’s long term. We’re not totally writing it off.”
There still will be activity at his storefront on Cowlitz Street. Delin plans to use the site for weekend-only liquidation sales, he said.
Marie and Robert Oberg’s antiques business on Ramsey Street downtown bore the brunt of the Christmas Day fire’s devastation. Most of the inventory was destroyed. The shell of the 1892 building still stands, but demolition appears inevitable.
“We’ve been advised to take it down, but we’re not sure just when or how,” Marie Oberg said.
Oberg, 72, said she and her husband, Robert, 75, would find it too difficult and time-consuming to gather enough inventory to restart their business.
However, she encourages anyone else to take a chance on her town.
“I’m not negative about what happened to Toledo. I think it’s going to grow,” she said. “If someone came looking to buy a building here, I’d say go for it. If I was 45, I’d jump at it.”
She bases her optimism on projects planned by the Cowlitz Indian tribe, the possibility that a machinery auctioneer will move to the Napavine area and the general potential for growth along Interstate 5.