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ON THE ROAD TO BARING, WA
And the "Almost Famous" Baring General Store
March 12, 2010
(BARING, WA.) -- One of the interesting things about residing in the Sky valley is that living history is all around us.
Exterior of Baring General Store. SVC staff photo. CLICK TO ENLARGE
Baring store owner Steve “Bear” Westover watches local resident Christopher Pippin examine the old post office boxes. SVC staff photo. CLICK TO ENLARGE
Mountain goat on the wall. SVC staff photo. CLICK TO ENLARGE
Menu featuring old time photo of the building. CLICK TO ENLARGE
Old lunch/deli sign. Deli sign. SVC staff photo. CLICK TO ENLARGE
Antiques for sale in store. SVC staff photo. CLICK TO ENLARGE
Time for customers sign. Deli sign. SVC staff photo. CLICK TO ENLARGE
Outdoor signage. Deli sign. SVC staff photo.CLICK TO ENLARGE
You see it in the old Bush House in Index and storied old copper mines still in the backwoods up there, to the creaky (and haunted) old Skykomish Hotel (if walls could talk) to ancient native American hunting grounds to the almost ancient Baring General Store & Eatery in tiny Baring, Washington -- all 1.8 square miles of it just off Highway 2 a few clicks up from Index.
Stepping into the Baring General Store is like walking back in time. How old is the place? If you ask owner Steve “Bear” Westover he’ll tell you, “the store I’m not sure of but the building itself is over 112, 115 years old somewhere around there.”
And it looks its age in a rustic, antique sort of way. This is an old building (built in the late 1800’s) with gritty character that has the salty taste of time and the ghosts of long ago written all over it.
There’s even a tiny functioning post office in the back of the store that looks like it came straight out of a photo from the turn of the century.
It’s so tiny and well worn (meaning old) at first a visitor mistook it for a prop, an antique perhaps that was for sale or maybe just there for display.
Nope. It is a functioning, real life, honest to God U.S. Post Office and it’s where the folks in Baring get their mail (all 200 or so full time residents). In the 2000 census there were 233 people, 105 households, and 59 families in Baring.
“The post office is 111 years old, I know that,” said Westover.
Keena Jaeier has been the postmaster for the past eight years. (The post office in the store celebrated its 100th year anniversary Feb 2, 1999).
Baring was originally named Casco way back when. Then in May 1900 a banker named Baring loaned the town some money and so they named the town after him.
The town was originally a logging town then later was used by railroad crews who built the first railroad tracks over the Cascades.
THE MOUNTAIN MAN WHO RUNS THE BARING STORE
Come April 1st Steve, a 14-year Baring resident, will have owned the Baring store for three years. And what did he do before becoming a general store man? “ I’m actually retired from Stevens Pass (ski resort). I was the Personnel Director. I was there for over twenty some years. I started as a bouncer.”
Steve did not say how many people he bounced - or the manner in which the bouncing occurred - during his career as a bouncer at the resort but with a nickname like “Bear” and taking in to account Steve’s imposing size, an observant person arrives quickly at the conclusion Westover was a man highly capable of some seriously bad bouncing had he a mind to be doing it.
Starting out in the business, Steve was a bouncer at the pass during the winter and a river guide all over Washington State during the summer months.
He’s a mountain man with river water in his veins through and through. Says he doesn’t even like driving “down below” in civilization anymore.
After retiring from Stevens Pass he started a landscaping business and was doing that when a friend of his who owned the store wanted to retire. One thing led to another and the next he knew Steve was behind the counter of a very old country general store as the proprietor.
NOT JUST A STORE BUT THE COMMUNITY HUB
The Baring store is the only business in Baring and the only place that not only sells grocery and deli items but actually cooks up a heck of a country breakfast in the morning and even has it’s own signature sandwich.
That – and the post office being there - makes the store the central hub of the community.
On weekdays the locals start coming in at 7:00 a.m. for Steve’s hot country breakfasts (including world famous pancakes) and 8:00 a.m. on weekends.
By the way, the store’s signature sandwich is as good a deli sandwich as you’ll find anywhere according to a Chronicle staffer that consumed one.
Called “The Fat Boy Sandwich”, it features mounds of sliced beef inside a hoagie roll, plus fried onions, two kinds of fried bell peppers plus provolone cheese and the entire creation then smothered in a “secret pepperoncini aujus Italian sauce.”
It is a great sandwich. A bit pricey ($7.99) but well worth it. It makes a complete lunch or dinner. Billy Bob (our Chronicle food critic) gives it a solid 8.5 because it has a good beat and you can dance to it (besides the fact it is darned tasty).
And the best part is you can eat it while admiring the stuffed heads of two big mountain goats who failed to outrun full metal jacketed .300 Winchester Magnum rounds traveling at 2,300 feet per second with bad intentions in mind.
Those bad boys are proudly hanging on the wall (shooter unknown).
You could say the inside of the Baring General Store might be somewhat challenging for the anti-hunting, anti-gun, touchy-feely, high-tech, vegetarian Redmond/Seattle crowd.
WORKING FOR A LIVING
Most resident’s commute to jobs somewhere “down below” (there’s no employment to speak of in or around Baring save for a few railroad and Stevens Pass jobs and a few folks who are self employed) and for some it’s a long round trip – like to Everett or even further south in the metro for employment.
But most Baring residents consider it a great trade off to be able to come home at night and enjoy quiet, peaceful, mountain living with the sound of the river nearby, world class hiking, some great fishing and hunting and a hearty fire in the back yard pit when you want one as well as oodles of wildlife to enjoy (bears in the spring, the odd mountain lion roaming through at night looking for a late night snack).
Rumor has it that some years back in Baring a woman had several “wolf dogs” (Alaskan husky and/or German shepherd dogs bred with wolves to produce a hybrid offspring) that got loose and began roaming. Someone, so the story goes, shot them all deader than dead. Shooter unknown.
Then there’s that “living history” thing. Every time a Baringite saunters into the 115-year old Baring General Store and sits down to a Fat Boy sandwich or a hot country breakfast, they experience a direct connection to the logging and railroading past of the Great Northwest and the Sky Valley.
Sometimes old walls do talk.