Barman’s Country Store in downtown Colville wasn’t very active last Friday afternoon, save for the sounds of Jerry Lee Lewis’s rambunctious, “Great Balls of Fire” playing over the loud speakers and the occasional groan of wooden floorboards as a few customers looked at wares. Employees manned a lunch counter and soda fountain where no one stopped in to order a sandwich and soup, or an old-fashioned milk shake.
The quiet could be attributed to the fact that it’s the holiday season and most people were probably visiting with family, and that cold weather doesn’t really lend itself to ice cream.
Jeanie Acorn, owner of Barman’s and The Acorn Salon next door, thinks one of the reasons business has been so slow lately is that people are under the assumption that Barman’s has shuttered its doors for good, or will at the end of the month.
Just to set the record straight, that’s not the case. The rumors of Barman’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
“I’m not closing,” says Jeanie, settling in at one of the tables near the back of the store with a glass of red wine. Her 10-year-old black Labrador and Barman’s regular, Will, follows her to her seat, plopping contentedly on the floor. “I’ve heard a few people say they thought I was closed already; it’s not happening.”
The rumor was founded in fact, though. After the death of her beloved husband and prominent Colville businessman John Acorn in September, Jeanie listed the building for sale. She says that her family was concerned that the management of both the tavern and Barman’s could adversely affect her health. She originally planned to close Barman’s at the end of 2012 and has slashed prices on in¬ventory storewide in anticipation of the closure. The listing expires in March.
A colorful history
“I know they mean well,” Jeanie says of her family’s concerns. “But the more I thought about it, the more ii almost seemed like just walking away from your home. The closer I got to the end of the year, the more depressing it got. It was actually more stressful for me to be worried about closing it than it is to keep both businesses up and running at the same time. I have a good team of employees and a grandson who helps me a lot.”
At 120-years-old and 26,000 square feet with four levels (counting the basement), Barman’s Country Store is an occupied and historic monu¬ment to the community’s past.
Today, the building offers us a look at what downtown Colville was like over a century ago. Residing on land that was once part of a ranch, Barman’s was constructed in 1892 by one of Colville’s founding fathers, John Rickey.
In 1895, the founder of Barman’s Department Store, David Barman, rented the ground floor and basement of the building, running his business there until he retired in 1909. The second and third floors were lodging rooms and offices.
In 1903, the building was purchased by J.H. Young, who helped bring the railway to Colville and made substantial profit from the Silver King mine. He maintained an office in the building for 11 years before committing suicide there in 1914. In 1922 the property passed on to his widow, Anna Young, who later married Young’s business partner, Lou Keller, owner of the historic Keller House.
Young’s was not the only death that took place in Barman’s. In the early 1900s, a woman (name unknown) was killed when her dress accidentally caught on fire in a gas stove lodged in one of the small apartments on the third floor. It is said that her husband was on the second floor playing billiards when she ran down stairs for help, panicking. Though those on the second floor were able to extinguish the flames, the woman was severely burned and died from her injuries.
Buying a business
“There are a few ghosts here,” Jeanie says with a practicality that would make one think she was discussing employee pay roll or scheduling. “They have always been very nice, though. I’ve never been afraid to be here by myself.”
The building has undergone various incarnations throughout its lifetime: a meeting hall for Masons, Odd Fellows and the Knights of Pythias, city council chambers, a superior court, and even an academy (the birth of Colville High School manifested on the top floor in 1895-96).
Barman’s was empty when the Acorns purchased it in 1994. Jeanie says the building has always held a certain appeal for her, and in 1994, whilst on their annual vacation to Arizona, John told her that their realtor had phoned him with news that Barman’s was for sale.
“He asked me if I wanted it and I said yes right away,” recalls Jeanie. “At that point, we had owned the Acorn for five years and I think we were both a little stir crazy trying to run the tavern together. Mar¬ried people shouldn’t always go into business with one another.”
The Acorns put in over $350,000 to renovate Barman’s, not including the fixtures. Yards and yards of linoleum has to be torn up, floors had to be sanded and the exterior had to be redone. Jeanie and John traveled from Washington, to Idaho, to Arizona and everywhere in between, attending auctions and estate sales to bring in high-quality antiques for the store. Some of the items on display today are from Jeanie’s per¬sonal collection, like the array of vintage dolls. The overall effect lends the impression that the customer is perusing items in a museum, not just shopping.
“I like having some of my own stuff here because that way, everyone can enjoy it,” states Jeanie. “And John never put a lid on me! I kept adding things, like changing the menu and putting the thrift store upstairs, and it just kept growing and growing.”
A big no-no
The back-story of Barman’s proprietress is as interesting as that of the building itself---born Edna Jeanie Twilegar in 1939 in Salmon River, ID. Jeanie grew up on a sheep ranch in what was an un¬usual family dynamic for the times. Her grandparents officially adopted her when her biological mother and father had her out of wedlock.
“Back then, that was a big no-no,” Jeanie says. “My mother’s parents threw her out of the house when they found out she was pregnant. She came to live with my grandparents and father for a time.”
Jeanie’s older “brothers” were actually her uncles, and the oldest, Marvin, was her biological father. After she was born, her little sister Beverly followed almost exactly 11 months later.
“Apparently, after I was born, my grandparents sent dad and mom out to watch the sheep together,” Jeanie explains. “I don’t know what they were thinking when they came up with that idea.”
Though Jeanie and Beverly referred to their grandparents like their original parents, Jeanie maintains that she always knew Marvin was her father.
“There wasn’t some great big moment where my grandparents revealed the truth to me,” says Jeanie. “They never tried to hide it around us. I just knew.”
She recalls her childhood as a happy one; there was no electricity and the only plumbing provided cold water that was heated on a wood stove when hot water was needed. Her uncles taught her basic math with poker cards, using an oil lamp at night. She and Beverly were expected to do chores everyday, like feed the chickens, collect the eggs and work in the garden.
Her father and uncles would bring home animals for Jeanie to take care of and play with, nur¬turing her compassion for humanity’s four-legged friends that extends to her involve¬ment as the current chair of the non-profit Colville Pet Rescue.
One day, Jeanie remembers, her uncle Dean brought home a fawn he had found on the way home from school (the boys rode their horses five miles to a lean-to to catch the school bus, then rode back to the ranch at the end of the day).
“I was so excited,” Jeanie says. “I named him Bambi. Mama (grandma) didn’t take to him much, though. When he got bigger he would walk right into the house and snatch slices of homemade bread right off of the table. She would hit him with her broom.”
One summer’s day, Jeanie accidentally lost track of Bambi, causing her grandfa¬ther to shut down a logging crew he was supervising and have the men search for the baby deer instead. It turned out, the fawn had just fallen asleep a short distance from the house in a stand of tall grass. Jeanie remembers her grandfather scolding her thoroughly for her perceived carelessness.
“I think in those days you kind of had to be a little hard,” Jeanie says of her grandfather. “But now that I think about it, he stopped a logging crew so they could search for my pet. I had a good childhood. Nowadays, people might wonder how we lived that way, but we didn’t want for anything and we weren’t bored. We were pretty happy.”
Jeanie isn’t the type of person one would call sentimental. As a businesswoman and animal rights activist, she has the demeanor of a shrewd individual who does not suffer fools lightly. But when she speaks of John, there is a visible softening in her face and a lilt of fondness can be detected in her tone of voice. The two were married in 1986 after opening the Acorn the previous year. They divided their time between the two business ventures, going south to Arizona for the winter and con¬tinuing to advocate for City of Colville issues like diagonal parking and the construction of a city dog shelter.
“We knew each other for ten years before we started to date,” says Jeanie. “We were both married to other people, then we both divorced them, and we still never took it a step farther. I had a girlfriend who was kept telling me that John and I should go out, that we’d be perfect for each other.
Finally, one day I just asked him, ‘John Acorn, when are you going to ask me out on a date?’ He blushed and said, ‘How about this Friday?’ And that was that.”
It’s those recollections and nuances of the heart that most likely mean Barman’s and Jeanie were fated to be on the same path. Though, of course, the future is un¬known, Jeanie says she will look after Barman’s as long as she is able.
“It has a lot of memories,” she says of the store. “More than can be written down, probably.”
After all, not all ghosts are bad.