by Ann M. Colford
The Bank of Whitman anchors one corner of Endicott's downtown -- D Street and Third -- and the post office door sits under a small awning a couple of buildings away.
But the hub of activity is Endicott Foods, the surprisingly large grocery and deli run by Jenny Meyer, who came to Endicott in 1977. Just about everyone stops by the store sooner or later, and Meyer knows just about everything that's going on -- even the impending arrival of a curious writer from Spokane.
"Oh, I heard you were coming," she says with a smile. She's back from driving her school bus route, planning her lunch special between customers and getting ready for the next round of coffee drinkers. "The men come at about 9 o'clock in the morning, and they sit here and have coffee for an hour, hour-and-a-half, whatever. Then the ladies come about 10:30, 11."
The morning coffee klatch is the place to go to meet people in Endicott. As preschool teacher Margaret Schmick says, "All roads lead to the deli."
"We don't dress up, we just come down here," says Pat Byers, who moved into town after many years of farming and ranching out on Rock Creek. "There might be someone here to visit with, to have a cup of coffee with."
Like many small towns, Endicott runs on relationships. The population has remained small over the past 50 years -- a total of 355 in the last census -- and many folks claim common ancestors among the original homesteaders and the German-Russian immigrants who settled here. It's important to stay on good terms with the neighbors and not gossip indiscriminately, because your confidant may turn out to be a cousin of your subject.
Although the total numbers haven't changed much, long-time residents note a gradual increase in newcomers, people with no family ties to Endicott. As real estate prices have risen in other parts of Whitman County -- specifically around Pullman -- some home-buyers are choosing to move further out from the population centers to smaller and less-expensive locales like Endicott.
"I think the biggest issue we're having now in Endicott is that the older people are willing to do stuff to keep the community going, and our new young couples with kids don't want to do anything," Meyer asserts. "Some do. I'm not saying all of them, but it's hard to get people to do anything."
Town Clerk and Treasurer Jerine Grey confirms the recent demographic changes. "We're kind of a bedroom community now for Pullman and Moscow," she says. "[The new residents] are not here all day, so they don't know us. And we don't know them."
In the end, though, where you were born matters less than active community participation, say the coffee klatch regulars.
"You could join one of the local churches, that'd be an easy way [to meet people]," says retired farmer Bud Smick. "We have a community club here that meets once a month. Go to ballgames at the school. Otherwise, just come to coffee klatches!"
A sign at the entrance to town says the town was founded in 1878. Local histories note an influx of Civil War veterans from the South in the 1870s, resulting in the naming of Rebel Flat Creek. Mayor Jim Hughes recalls hearing a story about a peddler who stopped to rest in his travels and liked the place so well that he decided to homestead right there. Records at WSU indicate that the Oregon Land and Improvement Co. platted the town in 1882 and named it for William Endicott Jr., a prominent Boston banker and shareholder in the railroad. And state records give the official incorporation date as 1905, following the arrival of many German-Russian families during the last two decades of the 19th century.
After a hundred years, give or take, there have been a few changes. Jerine Grey grew up in Endicott but married and left in 1963; when she returned in 2000, she noticed lots of things that were different.
"When I first came back, I was sad that we didn't pay attention earlier and preserve some of our older buildings," she says. "We don't have anything left, really, just [the store building] and the old City Hall."
Aileen Johnson, daughter of a farmer and wife of a farmer, remembers back even earlier. "Businesses have dwindled, like a lot of small towns," she says. "We used to have a shoe repair shop, a big grocery and dry goods store, a creamery and even a movie theater. We had three grocery stores in town when we moved back out to the farm in 1948. Our pharmacy closed a few years ago because the pharmacist retired and he couldn't find anyone to buy the business, so now if you need anything you have to go out of town. We're grateful for our store, though."
Most people drive to Colfax for their major grocery shopping now; to buy clothing, one must venture to Pullman, Moscow or Spokane. The closest medical services are in Colfax, although the satellite clinic in St. John opens a few days a week. The old drug store is now an antique shop.
Despite its geographic isolation, Endicott links to the wider world via cable television and Internet services, making mail order a convenient option when products are not available locally. There's still no pizza delivery in town, but most residents agree that the benefits of life in Endicott outweigh the inconveniences.
"Whatever you want to do, you can live here and do it," Johnson says.
"Children are safe here," Byers adds. "We are safe."
Farmer and trucker Jim Hughes is in his third year as mayor of Endicott; before that, he served on the town council. The biggest issue he has wrestled with as a town official is Washington's Initiative 695, the vote that set annual license tab fees at $30. After the new fees took effect, Endicott's street fund plummeted from a budget in the thousands to less than $250 a year, while other budget areas took equally drastic hits.
"In little towns like this, that really affected city budgets," he says. "Other towns, those with a bigger tax base, weren't as affected as we were."
The town struggled to make up the difference, turning to grant funds to help maintain the infrastructure. Grant money fully or partially paid for a new bridge, a sewage treatment plant and a repaved road in recent years, and the town is seeking additional funds to update its water system. Endicott has also just signed a contract with Inland Cellular to build a cell phone tower on top of the hill south of town.
"Everybody within a few miles will have service," Hughes says. "It will be good for safety as well as convenience. And the company seems to be doing it to help us as well as themselves, and we're grateful."
Fewer people now live on the farm as farm sizes increase and the number of farms drops. Generally, the ownership remains with local families, but some operations grow larger as other families get out of farming altogether.
"When you want to buy fertilizer for land, the more you buy the less you pay," says Hughes. "It seems like people have to grow to survive."
Agriculture and farm services still drive economic activity around Endicott; the largest employers in town are two fertilizer companies and the local wheat growers' association. But that doesn't mean other businesses can't thrive. Vince Stolmeier, a master cabinetmaker, moved to Endicott from Seattle, after a brief stay in Pullman. Through his company, Viikwood, he creates custom cabinets, staircases and other design elements for high-end residential and commercial clients primarily in the Seattle area.
"The houses were cheaper here, so we bought a house," he says. "I took to it right away. When we got divorced, I raised the kids here, and when they got to high school, they wouldn't let me move -- they wanted to stay here."
Stolmeier's business relies on word-of-mouth referrals, and he says he has no trouble getting business despite the distance from his client base. He does occasional small jobs for people around Endicott, and the people of the town take pride in his success. He serves on the town council, and everyone knows him as the guy who wears shorts all the time.
"We've got a few farmers who'll come in here in the winter to see if I'm still wearing shorts," he laughs. "I'm their weather gauge. They say, 'If you've got pants on, then we're ordering spring wheat because we know all our [winter] wheat is dead.'"
Just up the road sits the Pleasant Times tea house and gift shop, another thriving small business. Set in a pink-and-white 1905 Victorian house, the tea house attracts customers from as far away as Spokane and the Tri-Cities to its elegant high teas and luncheons. Owner Jean Cisneros moved here after many years living in Germany and expanded the business begun by her daughter back in 1991. Now the house holds several rooms of antiques and fine gifts for sale; Cisneros and her staff welcome dozens of visitors every Wednesday through Saturday.
"People have a hard time believing that a nice go-out-to-lunch, special-occasion kind of place is way out here," she says. "We draw people from all over."
Cisneros redid the entire interior of the house, adding wallpaper and carpeting where there had been none. Each table is set exquisitely with floral linens and china; tea cups and teapots adorn the shelves beside the tables.
"I love to entertain, to set a pretty table, to decorate, so it all came together in the business," she says. "We want people to feel like the table is theirs for as long as they want it. The whole atmosphere of the soft music, and being able to come and stay at your table, no one's rushing you -- that's how it is in Europe."
Despite its proximity to the center of town, Pleasant Times does not seem to pull in many people from the community. Occasionally, local people will celebrate birthdays and anniversaries there, but the bulk of the business comes from elsewhere.
With another antique shop right across the street, the tea house could be the start of a tourist economy in Endicott -- or it could remain a single destination, an anomaly. The folks at the coffee klatch feel ambivalent about future growth. Although all agree they'd like to see more services and more economic activity in town, they've visited towns like Leavenworth and Winthrop, and they see reliance on tourism as a double-edged sword. They wonder if any tourists would ever want to come to Endicott.
"Endicott is in a spot where you have to want to come here," Grey points out "We're not on the way to anyplace."
"Yes," Johnson agrees. "We're off the beaten path."
The Endicott and St. John school districts have worked together since 1987 in an academic and athletic cooperative for grades 7 to 12. Overall, the two districts operate independently.
Elevation: 1,706 feet
Zip Code: 99125
Median household income: $28,594 (year 2000)
Median house value: $70,200 (year 2000)
Form of Government: Mayor-Council
McGregor Company (fertilizer and farm products)
Western Farm Service
Wheat Growers of Endicott
Endicott School District
Comments? E-mail your thoughts or ideas for future subjects [email protected]
Watch for the next installment of the Crossroads series in our June 3 issue, and in the first issue of every month throughout the coming year.
Publication date: 05/06/04