Fred Mestrich spent more than 18 years teaching youths about small engine repair at a vocational campus on Youngs River Road outside Astoria before a round of layoffs had him looking for a new line of work.
He and his wife, Ann Mestrich, who worked as a bank teller, looked down the street at a former wrecking yard and feed store. In 1986, they opened Clatsop Power Equipment, repairing and selling the area’s home machinery. Over the next 35 years, the store became a preferred local dealer for brands like John Deere and Snapper.
The Mestriches retired this month, passing the store and their staff off to the owners of Clark County Lawn and Tractor in Vancouver, Washington.
“We were ready for retirement, and John Deere wouldn’t let us just sell on the open market,” Fred Mestrich said. “We had to sell to another John Deere dealer. We couldn’t even turn it over to our sons.”
The Mestriches connected with the owners of the Vancouver store, whose general manager Kevin Williquette said they were looking to expand beyond the one location. They are renaming the Astoria location Clatsop County Lawn and Tractor but keeping the same staff and a similar operation.
“The opportunities for us to expand are pretty minimal, as the bigger corporations are buying up a lot of these dealerships,” Williquette said.
Prior to the sale, the owners had wanted to add another location in Clark County, Williquette said, but John Deere wanted them to go a different direction. The timing worked out with the retirement of the Mestriches, who needed a buyer John Deere would sign off on.
Running a business wasn’t completely new to the Mestriches, whose family had run Chris’ News on 14th and Commercial streets in Astoria. Their two sons, Bryan and Gregg Mestrich, worked for Clatsop Power Equipment since they were teenagers.
Bryan Mestrich will stay on with Clatsop County Lawn and Tractor. Fred Mestrich said he would fill in from time to time as needed and that he is also helping Gregg Mestrich start a company to take on the store’s former boat motor repair business.
Aside from teaching and running a business, Fred Mestrich retired from Lewis and Clark Fire & Rescue in 2012 after 36 years of service. He still serves on the fire district’s board. A member of the Lower Columbia Classics Auto Club, he is most looking forward to having more time to work on his cars.
“Right now I’m doing a ’56 Chevy two-door station wagon,” he said. “The next one’s going to be a ’56 four-door hardtop. And I’ve got a few Model As. (Ann) has got a ’63 (Mercury) Comet convertible.”
Asked about her plans, Ann Mestrich said she’d miss all the customers from over the years but has a long list of home projects and books to finish now that the couple isn’t spending six days a week running the business.
“Nice days, they’ll probably see us out driving a car,” she said.