Siblings seek to bring back glory days for Aldrich’s

New owners have deep connection to historic market

Brennan LaBrie
blabrie@ptleader.com
Posted 8/3/20

For the new owners of Aldrich’s Market, the journey from regular shoppers to owners of the 125-year-old market was a fast one.

While visiting their mother in Port Townsend this past April, …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Siblings seek to bring back glory days for Aldrich’s

New owners have deep connection to historic market

Posted

For the new owners of Aldrich’s Market, the journey from regular shoppers to owners of the 125-year-old market was a fast one.

While visiting their mother in Port Townsend this past April, siblings Yos and Christa Ligtenberg of Port Townsend and Rachel Ligtenberg of Seattle were discussing ideas for a new project they could collaborate on. Ever since their father passed away in 2018, the trio had grown closer than ever, and wanted to find a way to work together. Rachel, who had retired from REI, was recruiting Yos, who had recently been furloughed from his job in the wine distribution industry, to the leadership and business consultancy firm she was launching. 

Then, the subject of the just-shuttered Aldrich’s market came up.

“Why not Aldrich’s?” Rachel remembers one of them asking. Perhaps, they thought, this could be their new venture.

With the help of a lawyer, they contacted the owner of the building, and within a month, the space and the historic business was theirs. 

“It happened very, very quickly — just from the genesis of the idea to the actual getting the keys to the place to the deconstruction mode we’re in now,” Yos said.

The Ligtenbergs knew that they had a task before them. They were, after all, restarting a business from the ground up during a global pandemic; a pandemic that the previous owners cited as the “tipping point” for the undoing of their business. The previous owner also cited heavy competition from Port Townsend’s larger grocery stores for Aldrich’s demise, and that situation hadn’t changed.

However, the Ligtenbergs believe that they have what it takes to make the oldest continuously-run grocery store in Washington thrive once again. They point to their combined experience in retail, food service, and business ownership as a solid foundation for success.

Yos’ background is in the wine, beer and spirits industry up and down the West Coast. Most recently, he served as head of Northwest sales for a distribution agency based out of Kent, with a two-year stint in Portland as head of the company’s Oregon operation.

Christa boasts decades of experience in the restaurant and retail industries, including more than a decade in Port Townsend. She returned to college to get her nursing degree in 2009, and now works at the Jefferson Healthcare Medical Center.

Rachel spent 30 years at REI, finishing her time there as vice president of retail. 

“And we’ve all run households,” added Christa, who raised four children in Port Townsend. “I’m thinking, if I can do that, I can do this with a couple of sibling parents who are incredibly bright.” 

The decision to purchase Aldrich’s may have come about suddenly, but the siblings said they are motivated to continue the legacy of an establishment that has been a staple of their lives for so many years, as well as those of the community around them. 

“It’s one of the first places I went when I landed here,” Christa said. “I was definitely swept up in the culture of Aldrich’s and the notion that it’s the center of the universe. It holds a sentimental place for me and for, I think, a lot of people.” 

She added that the 2003 fire that brought down the market’s old structure was “traumatic” for their family. 

Yos worked at the market 22 years ago when he first moved to town, and like Rachel, said that every visit back to Port Townsend before permanently moving here three years ago included runs to Aldrich’s.

“It’s always been the go-to for us,” Rachel said. 

“There are businesses here that are very important and integral, but I think that Aldrich’s is the heart of not just uptown, but Aldrich’s is the heart of Port Townsend,” Christa said.

After a 22-year hiatus, Yos said he is excited to be back at Aldrich’s, this time working 80 to 100 hours a week. He’ll be doing it “with joy,” however, as it won’t involve driving to Kent.

A VISION FOR SUCCESS

Above all else, the Ligtenbergs believe that it is their approach to running Aldrich’s that will make it successful, an approach based on a clear vision and a set of values.

Their goal from the beginning, Yos said, was to start with a vision and work backward, and not to focus primarily on the financial aspect. A focus on finances, Rachel added, can constrain a business.

“We’re starting with the idea of serving this community,” she said.

It’s not their bottom line that is informing this business venture, she said, it’s the “quadruple bottom line” of the community, employees, customers, and business.

“To only be the sixth stewards in 125 years, there’s a bit of a responsibility there to get it right, and that’s exactly what we’re going to attempt to do, and that’s really paying homage to the spirit of the place and not coming at this from some sort of greedy business approach,” Yos said. “This is a different way of doing business.”

“We know that we have the business smarts to run a big business, but that is not our primary focus,” he said. “Our primary focus is to create an absolutely joyous and abundant place where people are going to leave with big smiles on their faces.”

They want to make sure this sense of abundance and joy is felt by their employees as well, many of whom were brought back from Aldrich’s previous ownership, such as the staff of the Ichiba Sushi restaurant inside the market.

“All of our experience informs us that we have to do right by our people because they are the most important aspect of any organization,” Yos said. 

This values-based approach has led to the trio meeting with their landlord, neighboring businesses, and dozens of local farmers, food producers and suppliers to make sure their values align, in order to build trusting and long-lasting professional relationships, they said. 

STAPLES WITH A LOCAL TWIST

The Ligtenbergs aim to create a store targeted at everyone, with staple foods offered at competitive prices and SNAP benefits accepted, while also emphasizing organic products of local origin and international products not found anywhere else in town. The balance of cheap staple foods and unique, “elevated” offerings is key, Yos said. 

“We’re going to try to steer away from as much corporate stuff as possible,” he said.

But they don’t see themselves as being in competition with The Food Co-op, Safeway, or QFC. 

“We are going to be our own creature,” Christa said. 

“We are part of a healthy ecosystem,” Rachel added. “There is so much room for all of us to thrive and serve.”

However, they are taking notes from local stores on what they see as best practices.

“We need to run a fiscally sound business,” Yos said. “It’s not like we’re going to be selling durian smoothies and only durian smoothies. That just wouldn’t be smart. And this place would not smell good.”

Sustainability is one of the Ligtenberg’s main goals for Aldrich’s, a goal that can be difficult to achieve in a time when almost all food is packaged take-out. In large part due to the restrictions on indoor eating and self-serve stations, the former deli in the back of the store — one of its primary sources of revenue — will be replaced with grab-and-go stations of house-made sandwiches, soups, and other items. However, while other stores may be stuck with backloads of plastic containers and utensils, an advantage of the store’s hiatus is that the Ligtenbergs can start off with a supply of compostable inventory.

CHANGES IN THE WORKS

The store currently sits in a state of “complete deconstruction,” as Yos put it. The store’s entire look is changing, from its shelving arrangement to its interior paint job to its upper floor. All of the moves are being made to create a more open, spacious environment, the Ligtenbergs said. 

The market’s upper floor is part of Phase 2 and will likely still be in transition upon the market’s tentative opening in September. 

Each day, construction crews can be seen moving in and out of the space, and the Ligtenbergs say that they get constant visitors, from curious customers to neighbors and food service workers offering help. 

“I could seriously just put a lawn chair out in front of the place and just have conversations with people all day,” Yos said. “It is just palpable, the excitement. And we feel that, we feel that genuinely.”

The Ligtenbergs attribute this to both an excitement for the return of a community landmark, as well as the loneliness of social distancing, quarantine and the cancellation of Port Townsend’s many large festivals.

“There is this deep hunger for community,” Rachel said. “People want to have a reason to be in a place that is imbued with a sense of joy and community.” 

“When Aldrich’s opens, I think we need to be that venue for community and action — in a safe and responsible way,” Christa added. 

Comments

1 comment on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
Sheila

It's great that you're opening Aldrich's again! Thank you!

I hope you will do the shopping and no-contact pick up like the Co-op is now doing so that those of us who are still not going into public places can support you.

Monday, August 3