By Addie Maguire
When Corvallis was incorporated as a city in 1857, there were only a few businesses on its dirt and boardwalk streets. A pair of boots cost about $7 and a bottle of ink was about $0.25. Corvallis was underdeveloped, but quickly becoming an important city in Oregon’s economic makeup.
Over the following decades, the city grew to include two newspapers, a hardware store, a few drug stores, a post office, and many other businesses. Incredibly, some of these businesses from the pioneer days are still thriving in Corvallis today.
In operation as a hardware store since the 1850s, Robnett’s, located on the corner of 2nd Street and Adams Avenue, is easily one of the oldest businesses in Corvallis. The business was established as a general mercantile by J.C. Avery, founder of Corvallis. The business changed names six times over the next century, changing hands between the Spurlin, Lilly, and Currin families. Remarkably, the store never changed locations and always sold hardware or agricultural tools. The business became known as Robnett’s Hardware in 1961.
The Robnett family has been involved in the business for seven generations. Tori Lockwood, the current owner, explained how the store remained in the family for over a century. “I think it is amazing that at any given time we have had three generations [spouses, too] working together without any divorces or family splits.”
Robnett’s Hardware survived through the rise of industrialism, two world wars, a Great Depression, and recently the competition of online shopping and box stores. “It’s always a challenge to compete no matter what type of business you have,” Tori said. “You just have to find a way to be better or different enough to survive.”
The Corvallis Gazette was established in 1862 by William B. Carter. There were two other papers in Corvallis during this time, The Benton Blade and The Benton Leader, neither surviving more than about a decade. The Gazette was located at NW 3rd Street where the Sunnyside Up Café is now located. The Corvallis Times was established in 1888 by Robert Johnson and was located on the corner of 2nd Street and Jefferson. Tragically, one of the editors, John Huffman, was killed after being crushed by a printing press while moving it up the stairs.
In 1909, the two papers merged to create The Corvallis Gazette-Times. The Gazette-Times moved at least 13 times before landing in its current location on Jefferson Avenue.
Established in 1901 by O. J. Blackledge, Blackledge Furniture started out selling furniture as well as musical instruments, paint, and an undertaking service. It changed hands between various members of the Blackledge family, and survived the Great Depression by developing the largest paint department in the Willamette Valley. Originally located north of its current location, the business was remodeled and moved south down 2nd Street in 1923 into a new building.
What’s the Secret?
Robnett’s current owner says, “[Robnett’s] has survived on knowledge, product mix, service, and the fact that we are a ‘hands-on’ family—we are all employees working with the customers.” And probably, there are some fundamental truths in that for everything from the retailer to the tech firm, it would be safe to say the secret to a long-lasting and respected business lies in hard work, dedication, and a lot of luck.