Olympia’s Gull Harbor Mercantile: An Enduring Beacon of Community


On the shores of Puget Sound, Olympia’s Gull Harbor Mercantile grocery store and gas station has stood as a beacon of community and commerce for generations. This unassuming establishment has provided not only essential goods and services, but also a sense of belonging and tradition to the residents of Olympia with its remarkable history, enduring significance and cherished memories associated with this iconic landmark.

The story of the Gull Harbor Mercantile began in the early 1930s when it was first built as a dancehall. This vibrant establishment quickly became a hub for social gatherings and entertainment, drawing people from near and far. On Saturday nights, the rhythmic strains of live music would fill the air as the community came together to dance and celebrate life.

History of the Gull Harbor Mercantile in Olympia

In the early 1940s, recognizing the community’s evolving needs, the former dancehall was transformed into a store with gas pumps where people could buy food, feed for animals and rent food lockers. It was sold to Eddie and Beryl Kuhr in 1956, heralding a new chapter in its history.  The establishment now offered a convenient one-stop shop for residents, where they could not only refuel their vehicles, but also stock up on groceries, household essentials and engage in warm conversations with the Kuhrs.

As Olympia continued to grow and thrive, the Gull Harbor Mercantile cemented its status as an integral part of daily life for the neighboring residents. It was more than just a retail space. It was a communal gathering spot where neighbors forged connections, exchanged stories and strengthened the bonds that define close-knit communities. “My favorite part is the people, the interactions. My dad was the same way and loved talking to people,” says Teri Kistler, the daughter of Eddie and Beryl.

Black and white photo of the Gull Harbor Mercantile from a newspaper
In the early 1940s, the Mercantile evolved into a one-stop shop for everything from animal feed and food locker rentals to fuel. Photo courtesy: Gull Harbor Mercantile

1965 Olympia Fire at Gull Harbor Mercantile

In 1965, during an unfortunate robbery, a thief inadvertently ignited a propane torch resting on a display shelf, starting a destructive fire that swiftly engulfed the store. In the face of this devastating setback, the Kuhrs found themselves overwhelmed.

However, the community rallied behind them, offering unwavering support and loyalty. The Kuhrs committed themselves to the daunting task of rebuilding. Rising from the ashes of their former store, they built a new and more spacious establishment.

Black and white newspaper photo of Eddie and Beryl Kuhrs helping a customer at the register
Eddie and Beryl Kurh work at the Mercantile in 1976, twenty years after buying the establishment, servicing the community with smiles and quality groceries. Photo courtesy: Gull Harbor Mercantile

For many years after that, Eddie and Beryl tirelessly operated the resurrected store, continuing the legacy. Then, in 1982, a new chapter unfolded as their daughter, Teri, and her husband, Dick Kistler, assumed the reins of the establishment. With unwavering dedication, Teri and Dick carried forth the traditions and values instilled by the Kuhr family, allowing the store to continue to thrive. “I’ve been able to see the kids of the area grow up from childhood, and some still come in but as adults now,” comments Teri.

The Gull Harbor Mercantile still stands as a thriving hub of activity, serving the needs of residents and visitors alike.

Gull Harbor Mercantile: Thurston County from Farm to Fuel

Today, leading the way as the store manager is Teri and Dick’s son, Ted Kistler, the proud heir to this remarkable family tradition. He is ensuring the store remains a symbol of Olympia’s spirit and determination. 

Chilled produce section at  Gull Harbor Mercantile with various fruits, vegetables and bottled juices on shelves.
The Gull Harbor Mercantile small but mighty produce section offers a wide variety of fresh and often local, organic produce for their beloved customers. Photo courtesy: Gull Harbor Mercantile

In 1999, Shell joined the Mercantile as their fuel supplier. Despite the corporate addition, the Gull Harbor Mercantile’s reputation has been maintained as many local farms, artists and businesses have sold their products and artwork there throughout the years. Their produce is often from nearby farms such as LadyBerry, Black Hills Organics, and the Sundance Farm Stand. They even have an espresso bar, serving local coffee beans from Dancing Goat Coffee (formerly Batdorf & Bronson) for excellent prices, including 12-ounce lattes for only $1.50.

“Customers come in and say, ‘Teri’s still here!’ and the longtime customers are happy to see that we are still around and able to help out,” Teri relishes. This iconic establishment not only supplies essential goods and services to Olympia’s residents, but also symbolizes the resilience and unity of the community. It serves as a poignant reminder that in the face of adversity, with hard work, dedication, and the support of others, even the most daunting challenges can be surmounted. As it continues to withstand the test of time, the Gull Harbor Mercantile remains a cherished treasure in the heart of Olympia, preserving the rich history and traditions of this vibrant city by the sea.

Gull Harbor Mercantile
4932 Boston Harbor Road NE, Olympia

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