The first people I met when I moved into Tacoma’s Lincoln District in 1999 were the owners of Lincoln Hardware, which I quickly learned was a neighborhood fixture with a long history of serving our community. And why did I meet them, rather than other neighbors, first? Because the lock on the front door of my historic home broke, and needed fixing, quick.
I walked the block from my house on Tacoma Avenue to their store on G Street, greasy old lock in my hands. Scott Feist – who manages the store alongside his brother Dave and sister Jennifer – proceeded to spend more than an hour tinkering with the 1920s lock, until it was fixed. I came away from the encounter with not just the fix (for free, by the way), but a wealth of knowledge about my new neighborhood, and a sense that even as a newcomer, I was welcome, and had neighbors I could count on.
Now, 21 years later, I have many such stories about Lincoln Hardware. One of my favorites is when the store hosted a book signing for Tacoma’s Lincoln District, my love letter to the history of my neighborhood that was published in 2018. Seeing the line weaving through the store, neighbors with books in one hand and items for DIY projects in the other, is a memory I won’t soon forget.
And so, it’s a bitter pill to swallow to know that the store will be closing by the end of September. Scott, Dave, and Jennifer are doing it on their own terms – not forced out of business by big box stores or a bad economy, but rather by the desire to enjoy their retirement. After three generations of family ownership, this neighborhood institution will close its doors.
But for those of us who enjoy uncovering historic artifacts and researching their significance, there is a bit of a silver lining to this story: cleaning and packing sometimes leads to fun discoveries! About a month ago, Jennifer told me that she had something to show me, something that she hoped I could help research. Undated and unceremoniously rolled up, was the following:
Mysteries presented themselves, in need of answers. Julius Feist, the current owners’ grandfather who started the business, never owned a business by the name “J.Feist & Sons,” to the best of the family’s knowledge. He had never run a department store, as this document seemed to advertise. Nor was he ever in business downtown, at the 916 Broadway address noted at the top of the oversized page. Or was he? As the neighborhood historian, I was on the case.
Thanks to the online resources of the Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room remaining available during the pandemic, I started by researching the history of 916 Broadway. Built in 1914, it was originally home to the Colonial Theater, a smaller neighbor to the grand Tacoma Theater next door. After doing strong business throughout the 1920s, the theater closed its doors at the start of the Depression, reopening in 1931 as the Keyes Building, which was destined to become offices and shops.
This timing would line up to explain that, possibly, Julius Feist had a dream to open a downtown department store. Possibly, while he was still employed as a salesman for Tacoma Plumbing & Supply Co., before opening Lincoln Hardware, he entertained the idea of opening that store in the Keyes Building on Broadway. Entertained the idea just enough to sketch out this hand-drawn mock-up of some initial advertising. As his grand-daughter pointed out, he would have had only one son at this date, not “sons,” and certainly not sons old enough to go into business with him. But “J. Feist & Sons” does have a nice ring to it. And who can argue with a tagline like “The Store of QUALITY.”
But in the long run, it was good news for the Lincoln neighborhood that this dream, however fleshed out it really was, never came true for Julius. Instead of J.Feist & Sons, he would become the owner and proprietor of Lincoln Hardware. The business was already thriving on South G Street by the mid-1930s, and in 1946, he would erect the current building.
Lincoln Hardware was my first “in” to exploring the history of my neighborhood – a 20+ year journey that has led to a book, several talks and articles, nominations of my home and Lincoln High School to Tacoma’s historic registry – and, perhaps most significant on a personal level – a connection to my Lincoln-alum grandfather (class of ’34) who I never met.
Things won’t be quite the same around here without the store, but I’ll never forget the memories already made, or lose the inspiration to continue exploring the history of this unique Tacoma neighborhood.