Milwaukie-based Mill End Store celebrates 100 years
The Milwaukie-based Mill End Store hasn't just been in business for 100 years. During that time, the company has been operated by only one family — since 1981 by its current president, third-generation family member Nancy Bishop Dietrich.
The official "birthday party" for the store will take place this summer. Customers, locals and former employees can look forward to birthday cake, drawings, special events and promotional items.
The company that ultimately included the Mill End Store was founded in 1918, during an era when Portland-area business leaders would come together to invest in the community, Bishop Dietrich said.
At that time, E.B. McNaughton, owner of the First National Bank, offered a loan to Dietrich's grandfather, Roy Bishop, so he could convert Willis Mohair Mill into a worsted wool mill. Bishop then set up the Oregon Worsted Company with the help of two other prominent Portland business owners, John A. Zehntbauer of Jantzen and Julius Meyer, co-owner of department store Meier & Frank, said Howard Dietrich, Bishop Dietrich's husband and MES property manager.
Zehntbauer was interested in Oregon Worsted Company as a source of wool yarn suitable for swimwear for Jantzen Knitting Mills.
In the following decades, the Oregon Worsted Company supplied the U.S. Armed Forces with wool blankets. It also was the largest manufacturer of necktie lining material. But then came the advent of synthetic fabrics, and "virgin wool was not as well received," Bishop Dietrich said.
In the 1950s, a small store was set up in the mill to sell products to employees and their friends. The focus then shifted to providing customer requests for fabric and notions in the store.
In the 1960s, the family decided to put a fabric store downstairs in an unused part of the mill, and the store did so well on its own that the mill shut down in 1976.
In 1992, a lengthy construction project by the Oregon Department of Transportation forced the Mill End Store to relocate to its present site at 9701 S.E. McLoughlin Blvd.
The Milwaukie store over time has truly become a "destination location," Bishop Dietrich said, adding that there is a successful second location on Southwest Western Avenue in Beaverton. Customers come from all over the country and farther for the selection offered to the serious sewer. She is proud of the fact she has developed good vendor relations over the years and continues to find and buy unique, often one-of-a-kind, fabrics.
The Milwaukie location has been especially popular with customers for decades, Dietrich said, partly because its size has given the family the opportunity and luxury of bringing in fabrics not typically found everywhere.
Bishop Dietrich attributes the success of the Mill End Store to loyal customers and hard-working employees.
"We have been very fortunate over the years to have a wonderful, knowledgeable, creative and passionate staff. Our employees have made the store a success," she said.
The trend in retail recently has skewed to self-service, Bishop Dietrich said, "but that has never been our way of doing business."
"This is a creative environment, and we were always taught to take care of our customers" and treat people respectfully.
Bishop Dietrich feels that part of the job at the Mill End Store is educating customers about what makes a good quality fabric and what will and won't work for a project.
She says media personalities like Martha Stewart have helped educate the public about the importance of quality of fabric, by talking about the advantages of having a high thread count in sheets.
At that point, "people became aware of the difference in quality of fabrics, and demanded more choices," Bishop Dietrich said.
As for the future, she said the company was founded by men, but "women have ended up running it just as capably as men."
"My son is working with his father; he's here learning the business."
What: The Mill End Store celebrates 100 years in business
Where: 9701 S.E. McLoughlin Blvd., Milwaukie
Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday; and noon-5 p.m. Sunday
Contact: Call 503-786-1234 or visit millendstore.com