Sunday, January 4, 2015


Shaw Island Landing- Cindy Margritz
This winter has been a strange one in the history of our small isolated island. Last winter, for the first time in anyone's memory the store closed for the winter.  This fall we lost our postmaster (and the store is still closed for winter months). This means our two daily places to meet are either closed or limited. We have been desperate: one woman parked her RV in front of store/postoffice and invited people to come in for cookies and hot chocolate and game night has now started on Thursday evenings. We celebrated Howard's 90th birthday in December and over 100 people showed up- not only for Howard but to see one another!  On top of our local woes the powers to be have decided to put all ferries on a reservation system- which means those of us with no bridges are... well, you get the picture! One wonders what next will happen.

The history of Shaw Island storekeepers stretches back to 1898 when Gene and Sadie Hoffman Fowler sold food and supplies from their house.  In 1924 they built the store at its present site, on the water’s edge. In the early days, feed (for the many island chicken farms) and building supplies for Shaw and other islands were an important part of the store trade.

The Fowlers’ daughter, Mabel Crawford, ran the store from 1924 to the mid-1950s. Darrel Fowler was the next storekeeper. He was born in 1929 to Frank (born in 1900 on Shaw to Gene and Sadie) and Jessie Rice Fowler. Darrel’s brother, Wayne, still owns land on Shaw. A large part of Darrel’s trade was in chicken feed. He would bring in two longbed trucks full of feed twice a week.

The warehouse, adjacent to the store, was originally a cannery built for the Shaw Island Canning Company in 1912. The cannery processed salmon and produce from local farms. Later, the building was used for boat building, as well as sales of feed and lumber for the store.

In 1958 after many years in the Fowler family, the store was sold to a succession of owners. The Yansen, Leidig, and Nichols families each ran the store for a number of years. When we first arrived on Shaw, John and Geb Nichols casually ran things. One would grab supplies and if they were not around, just deposit money in a box.

Mother Kateri at ferry ramp
In 1976 the Franciscan Sisters purchased the store and ran the ferry dock. The “Nuns” were famous for meeting the ferry in their brown habits and greeting people at the store. They named the store "Little Portion" after the Italian church Portiuncula, meaning "a little portion [of the earth]," where St. Francis of Assisi lived and died. For a generation the sisters ran the store putting in long days meeting ferries at the terminal. They maintained a chapel near the dock and welcomed many people to Shaw. They continued to serve the Shaw Island community for 27 years and then sold the property to the present owners, Steve and Terri Mason. Over time the owners and the kinds of items for sale have changed but the store has always been the central hub of Shaw Island life.

Our small store is one of the oldest businesses in the San Juan Islands and indeed in Washington State.

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