The historic Greenbank Store changes hands Thursday, but it won’t be changing families.
Tom and Mary Coupe, who have owned and operated the store for 45 years, are selling it to their niece, Kate Buzard of Clinton.
“Forty five years is a pretty good run,” Mary Coupe said. “It’s great that a family member is going to take it over.”
“It’s going to be very strange come Thursday morning,” said Tom Coupe.
Buzard said the store will close for about a month for renovation and updating, but the restaurant will remain open during the work. She hopes to throw a reopening party on Saturday, Oct. 31.
The store essentially will remain the same, only better, Buzard said. She plans to restock shelves that have become depleted during the past couple of years, and fix coolers that have broken down.
She also plans to add hardware, sporting goods, wireless Internet connections, an espresso machine and eventually a soda fountain.
Buzard hopes to stock local fruits and vegetables whenever possible, and she plans to sell gasoline again. The store until recently offered the only fill-up spot along Highway 525 between Coupeville and Freeland.
“We ran out of money for it,” Mary Coupe said.
The new owner said she is looking for a familiar feel to the business.
“We really want to stick with the concept of a general store,” Buzard said. “We definitely want to keep that rural feeling. It’s a one-of-a-kind place, and we want to keep it that way.”
But she’s also thinking big.
“We want to make the store a destination point for people on the island,” she said. “We don’t want it to be a convenience store. We want it to be a grocery store for general shopping, so people don’t have to go to Freeland or Coupeville.”
The Coupes bought the store, which dates back 105 years, in 1964 with $16,000 borrowed from relatives.
They were born and raised in Seattle, but their ties to Whidbey Island go way back.
The city of Coupeville was named after Tom Coupe’s great-grandfather, Capt. Thomas Coupe.
The Coupes have known each other since she was 10 years old and he 12, and have been married for 51 years. They were married at 18 and 20, and by 23 and 25 they had a house, a business and three children.
At the time, they were the only young family in the laid-back community, Mary Coupe said. They eventually raised six children in Greenbank.
At one point, Tom Coupe took a postal exam and became Greenbank postmaster, a position he held for 22 years at the post office built next door to the store. In the 1980s, the Coupes sold the store business, but reacquired it eight years later in 1993, Mary Coupe said.
However, time and medical issues have steadily taken their toll, and the Coupes have decided to move into the next phase of their lives.
“The store was like therapy for us for the past five years, but we kind of wore ourselves out,” Mary Coupe said. “It was a labor of love. This community always made us feel welcome.”
Buzard, 44, moved to Whidbey Island from Arizona about six years ago, but she’s had family connections here for years. Her father is Mary Coupe’s brother.
She’s a building contractor by trade, specializing in renovations. She plans to do much of the remodeling work on the store herself.
She said she’s no stranger to the retail business; she was a restaurant and bar manager for 20 years, and knows a lot about food, beer and wine.
“I was ready for a change, and some regular hours,” she said. “Real estate isn’t the best business to be in right now.” She said her brother, Mark Buzard, will help get her latest venture off the ground.
“I’m honored to be the one to take over the store,” she added. “I’m really excited. I’m pleased that they’ve put their faith in me.”
The Coupes say they wouldn’t have traded their experiences for the world.
“It’s been better than a master’s degree in psychology,” Tom Coupe said. “Not a day goes by when something new doesn’t happen.”
“We didn’t make a lot of money, but that doesn’t matter,” Mary Coupe said. “We enjoyed every minute of it. We’ve had a pretty darned good life.”
“We’re just going to have some fun,” Mary Coupe said. “We love to do car trips. Tom’s already been into the atlas.”