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DRIFTWOOD TACK HAS LONG, COLORFUL HISTORY

By Ellen Babin

Pilot staff writer

Dates are just numbers on a piece of paper to some of the Walt Thompson family. – they measure their lives by memories.

No one currently involved in the store can remember when Driftwood Tack and Western Wear opened in its current location at 1029 Chetco Ave. in Brookings.

Walt and Iva Thompson and their daughter Betty Bishop, who have helped with the shop for years– maybe 23 or 24 – aren't even sure when the doors will finally close on the store, the only one of its kind for 100 miles.

Driftwood Tack started small, operating from the home of Susie Thompson, Betty's sister, who needed a source of income. When people stopped by and needed help she'd plop her baby in a playpen.

As the number of customers grew and the house became too small, the inventory was moved into a storefront in Brookings. It moved locations a few times before landing at its current location.

In its heyday, Driftwood Tack was the place to go for saddles, rope and other tack. It added a large supply of western attire including boots, hats and pro-rodeo jeans. The store has been the only source for dark brown Wranglers the workers at Pelican Bay Prison were allowed to wear.

"We used to dress up the rodeo queens and their courts. Azalea courts also got some of their clothes from here," Walt said.

One of their biggest draws has been members of 4-H, especially at fair time. The Future Farmers of America and Grange members also were customers. Discounts were always given to those involved in those groups, Walt said.

For a time, the Thompsons were busy breeding and training a passel of Arabian horses, and added English gear to its stock.

When Susie left the store to work elsewhere, Driftwood Tack stayed in the family with Betty, Walt and Iva working there most of the time.

Walt said he attributed the slack in business to more than one factor. "Tennie runners," he said, have taken the place of boots."

And changes in lifestyles and interests have dampened the need for the store, and 4-H has "dried up," he said.

Betty noted when she started in the store it was a family business and stayed in the family. She guessed that everyone in the family old enough had helped in the store.

She said she really enjoyed working in retail and with her parents.

"All of us worked hard to try to make the store pay," she said. "We had to take money out of the other businesses – Driftwood Estates and Driftwood RV.

"I'm a trusting old guy," is how Walt, the patriarch, describes himself. He remembers when people needed something from the store, he would let them pay when they could. Special orders were always welcomed, he said.

Iva, the matriarch of the family and Walt's wife of 66 years, took it upon herself to do the books for the store for years. She was instrumental in operating Driftwood RV.

The Thompsons have four children, 11 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

When the store finally closes, Walt will spend some time developing more spaces for Driftwood Estates.

Betty will keep her fingers in the pie. She will continue to go to horse shows. She'll be selling her equine-related wares from her mobile business in a trailer called "On the Road Again."

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