If you ever find yourself traveling between Mount Rainier National Park and Mount St. Helens in Washington, you’ll likely pass through the small, unincorporated town of Packwood. A quintessential mountain town—where it’s not uncommon to see elk pass through—Packwood is home to Blanton’s IGA, a family-run grocery store that’s been serving the community since 1977.
Residents of East Lewis County know their store is special and now the rest of Washington knows it, too. Blanton’s received wider recognition recently when owner Hal Blanton, along with his wife, Tracey, was awarded Retailer of the Year by the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA). The couple was given the award at WFIA’s annual meeting and awards banquet on Tuesday, May 14, but the Blantons found out about the award about a month earlier, when WFIA President Jan Gee stopped by in a surprise visit that included cake and congratulations.
“It was a surprise when it happened. We had no idea we were nominated,” said Blanton, who in 1981 joined the business his dad and grandfather started two years previously. Married to Tracey for the past 43 years, the couple has four grown children and eight grandchildren.
What started as a 2,500-square-foot convenience store moved to a newly built location in 1988, which was expanded in 1993, the same year Blanton’s joined the IGA family. Blanton came on board a year after nearby Mount St. Helens erupted, which remains a milestone in the community’s and store’s history.
“Dad and Grandpa had to close the store that day. The power was out, and the ash and smoke were so thick they couldn’t see to drive, they had to walk home,” he said. Every year around the anniversary of that event, Blanton’s holds a Customer Appreciation Breakfast, held this year on May 18. “We set up the tent and cookers and feed the town breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m.,” he said. The breakfast is one of a number of events the store puts on throughout the year, such as a town picnic every fall and a “Moonlight Madness” event in November. For that, they open the store for extended evening hours and invite shoppers to come in their pajamas to take advantage of special deals and offerings.
“We continue to do things that help serve our community,” said Blanton. Located about 75 miles from the farm-heavy Yakima Valley, Blanton’s is able to provide customers with plenty of area fruits and veggies, as well as local favorites such as blueberries from a farm in nearby Mossyrock, organic produce from Sweet Dirt Farm, and local organic eggs. On top of it all, what really makes the store stand out is its emphasis on customer service, he said.
“People congratulate us and we appreciate that. It’s humbling. But what really makes this award possible is we’ve been blessed with great customers, and great people who take care of our customers, our loyal staff,” he said.
Hal and Tracey Blanton named Washington State’s Retailer of the Year
According to Gee in a recent news article, the Retailer of the Year award was chosen by the WFIA board based on three categories: running a good retail operation, investing in employees, and contributing to the community.
“When all the scoring came back to our office, Hal was a clear winner,” Gee said. “The small, rural stores like Hal's, they are the heart of the community. They're what makes the community tick,” she said. “They're far more than a store...Hal is no different. He's been at the core of leadership of just about every major social service, fundraiser, community need, and food drive.”