Changing of the guard
Peninsula entrepreneurs bring new energy to business community

Mark Johnson and Brandy Whiteman help a customer at the Chinook Country store in September. Johnson bought the store in September 2013 and added $45,000 in merchandise the first year, increasing sales and traffic at the store.

LONG BEACH — Kaarina Stotts grew up running the register and stocking the shelves, so it was no surprise when she bought her parents’ store, Pioneer Market, in early 2013.

She’s hesitant to say just how much she has invested in the convenience store and Chevron gas station, but it’s a considerable amount.

Stotts is among the Long Beach Peninsula’s younger residents investing in their community and backing it up with long hours and vision for the future.

She’s in good company. Her boyfriend, Mark Johnson, bought the Chinook Country Store in September 2013.

It needed some paint; the electric and lighting needed upgrading, but it was a good opportunity, he said.

They’re part of a trend. The Sou’Wester and its young Portland crowd, cranberry farmers building a demand for organic juice and a brewer risking it all to follow his passion are among the Peninsula’s entrepreneurs we’ve featured in the past 18 months.

All are part of the changing face of business on the Peninsula.

Johnson recognizes a good deal when he sees one. He works full time for Harbor Wholesale Foods, a company that keeps convenience stores stocked with cigarettes, snacks, candy and other items. That’s how he came across the store in the first place.

He’d been delivering to the previous owners for five years. He’s been working the area for six years.

They wanted to sell and he was interested.

Stotts’ parents built Pioneer Market at the corner of Pacific Avenue North and Pioneer Road in 1995. Art’s Market was there before. They had owned that since 1983. It was falling apart, she said, so they tore it down and rebuilt in 1995.

“Everybody told them [it was] a huge mistake, that they’d never make it because we were on the wrong side of the road,” Stotts said. “They said if we were on the other side of the road we’d do phenomenal, but we were on the wrong side of the road for gas…. So there’s a lot of people eating crow right now.”

Stotts taking over the store was always part of the plan, but when her father, Arthur, got sick, it bumped up the timetable.

The sale was financed through the family. Stotts was unwilling to share the full purchase price of the business. Pacific County lists the purchase price of the property and the building at $280,000. The full purchase price is significantly more, she said.

She has nine full-timers and is open 5 a.m.-11 p.m., 365 days a year with extended hours on busy weekends.

Johnson added about $45,000 in inventory to the Chinook Store and placed an emphasis on fresh food. He also invested in a cooler and a freezer.

He has three full-time employees and one part-timer. They’re critical to his business. They continue to keep things operating smoothly while he’s on the road. That full time job allows him to reinvest profit back into the store.

Business looks good this first year, he said. Year-over-year sales are up 30 percent in 2014.

While Stotts and Johnson were building toward a convenience store alliance, a new hotel dynasty was emerging.

Brady and Tiffany Turner built a nine-unit hotel plus their residence in 2004.

Her parents re-mortgaged their house to purchase the land as a retirement investment and put the property in the Turners’ name so they could use it for collateral to finance construction of the Inn At Discovery Coast.

“It was a very different financial market back then,” she said. “We were 24 and had good jobs on the Peninsula.”

They worked with Bank of the Pacific in 2003 for funding of the hotel.

“Both our parents had banked there,” she said. “We were in our early 20s and they gave us a million-dollar loan with equity in our property.”

It was a different story when the former Edgewater Inn came on the market. It was a hotel built in three phases in the 1980s. It was structurally sound, but it needed a makeover.

“It was just outdated, and this is an industry that drives on trends,” she said.

But the real estate bubble had burst in 2008 and the Turners were looking for financing in 2010.

“We actually wrote the business plan for the Adrift on our 10-year anniversary at Whistler at a coffee shop,” she said. “That was December of 2009.”

They got financing in March 2011.

“It took a year and a half, an SBA loan and Bank of the Pacific and angel investors to finance the Adrift,” she said. “So it was no easy feat, but it shouldn’t have been; it was no easy project.”

Financing the restaurant, The Pickled Fish, required the Turners to buy out the existing tenant.

Getting financing was tough, but looking back it makes sense, she said.

“When you’re in the middle of it, it’s like, ‘This is frustrating; we have a great plan,’ but given the market, our age and our history — we’d had success with 12 rooms, but 80 rooms is a different story.”

The Turners are ready to invest more in the right opportunity.

“We’re always talking about new ideas, on and off the Peninsula, so I’d say it’s likely,” she said.

They don’t have any solid plans right now.

“We’d love to be involved in a community building project in Ilwaco,” she said. “Because we think there’s a lot of potential there. We think it’s the whole Peninsula, not just Long Beach. We thrive as a whole, so we want to push that vision out. We need to figure out how to grow together.”

They’re looking for more opportunities and business partners.

Stotts and Johnson recently purchased the house across from the gas pumps at the Chinook Country Store. They’re renovating it and plan to reopen it as an antiques store.

Johnson points out that the house, built in the early 1900s, is itself an antique. He plans to highlight the 1-by-12 wood panels that have been hidden for most of the past century.

The previous owner wanted to include the RV park behind the house, but Stotts and Johnson couldn’t make the numbers work.

Johnson, a transplant to the area, is putting down roots, despite the job that keeps him on the road much of the time.

“This is my home now; I’ve invested in the community,” he said. “I plan on being here for the duration. I fell in love with this place.”

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.