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home : business : business May 24, 2016

7/30/2013 12:49:00 PM
Sisters Mercantile closes its doors
Kay McLaren outside the Sisters Mercantile, closing the store after 34 years  with mixed emotions. photo by Jim Fisher
+ click to enlarge
Kay McLaren outside the Sisters Mercantile, closing the store after 34 years with mixed emotions. photo by Jim Fisher

By Jim Fisher

After 34 years of doing business in Sisters, Sisters Mercantile is closing its doors. Kay and John McLaren officially closed their women's clothing store in Barclay Square on July 31, one of the businesses established in those early days as Sisters was changing from a fading small town into the tourist destination of today.

The McLarens started their business in the spring of 1979 in the Gallery Annex, in partnership with Kay's parents, Dan and Marge Shoop.

"We rented the smallest space the annex had, 720 square feet," Kay recalls. "None of us had retail experience, so we sold men's, women's, and children's clothing."

Two years later, they moved to a larger space of 940 square feet in the annex and began specializing in women's clothing.

The families put everything they made back into the business in those early years. Kay found work for three years as a secretary at Sisters Elementary School while John worked in construction, remodeling, and carpet cleaning. In 1982, three years after the business opened, Kay's parents were ready to retire, so she and John purchased the partnership.

While taking a business class at Central Oregon Community College, Kay learned about plans of Harold Barclay to build Barclay Square on Cascade Avenue. Before the building opened in 1984, she had rented the front suite for Sisters Mercantile. From 1987 to 1995, she also ran McLaren's, another women's clothing store also in Barclay Square. Her brother, Dan, ran another McLaren's store in Portland.

During these years, Kay found time to volunteer as president of the Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce. This was at a time when it was an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff or office.

"When someone called the chamber, the phone rang at my store," she remembers. "I would get questions about what the weather looked like as I was waiting on a customer."

During her tenure as chamber president, she helped organize a popular outhouse race that had two strong men pushing an outhouse on wheels occupied by a small woman.

"Former Sisters businessman Ray Buselli was a driving force in getting the chamber going and making it a success," Kay remembers. "Ray was able to secure funding for the chamber through room-rent receipts as well as spearheading television advertising in the Valley, which had a huge impact for Sisters businesses in the mid '80s."

During these years, Kay and John raised two daughters, Shelley and Cori. Both graduated in pharmacy at Oregon State University and have followed careers as pharmacists.

In 2000, the McLarens moved first to Portland and then to Canby. She turned the day-to-day operation of the store over to Pam Creason while she worked as a buyer for other Portland-area stores.

"I was fortunate in finding wonderful people to staff the store," Kay recalls. "Pam, Zoe Armbruster, Pat Molesworth, and many others made the store successful even during the slow economic times.

"Today, there are only a few Sisters businesses operating at the same location that were here when we opened in 1979," Kay recalls. "Leavitt's Western Wear, the Stitchin' Post, The Gallery, G.J. Miller Construction Co. and Reed Brothers Realty are among those few."

Kay is concerned about the future of retail stores in small towns like Sisters as more people shop at the "big box" stores or on the Internet. She also sees a challenging time for Sisters businesses as the major reconstruction of Cascade Avenue begins.

McLaren leaves Sisters with good memories and life-long friends from her many statewide customers and local residents. She and John will enjoy the change of pace without the challenges of running a business. Now living in their Canby home on a golf course, they are close to her parents and other family members as they begin a new chapter in their lives.

"The closing of the store has been quite emotional for me as it represents many years in Sisters as well as major changes in the retail landscape," Kay said. "There are countless businesses that have come and gone, and now I am one of them."

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