Hohl Feed and Seed

 

By Mary Peebles, 2006

 

Walking in the front door of Hohl Feed and Seed is like taking a step back in time. To the left is the whir of exercise wheels as the gerbils, hamsters and rats entertain themselves in the front window as an alternative to burrowing in the shavings in a snarl of noses and tails. Janice Vongs, who has worked at Hohl, especially with the animals for almost 20 years, says people are put off rats as pets because of their tails. She makes the distinction between the loyalty of hamsters and gerbils who, if they get loose will run away "but rats will come looking for you. They want to be with you."

 

Canaries and parakeets chirp in their cages. A back room houses doves and cockatiels. Ferrets are available by special order. The bunnies in their pen on the floor are a mix of mini rex, mini lop, Netherland dwarf and dwarf Polish.

They're quiet.

 

In spring, the chorus includes baby ducks and chicks, all waiting to be taken home and fed chick starter and laying mash with the expectation of organic, freshly-laid eggs.

 

Hohl no longer sells kittens. A back room houses cages under the protective umbrella of Whatcom Voice of the Animals. The rules are strict for their protection. No $6 kittens here. To insure that a potential owner understands the costs of having a cat, the adoption fee covers neutering and first shots. Laina Jansma, who runs the program, takes them all home on Saturday because Hohl is closed Sundays. Monday they are back ready for adoption to responsible owners.

 

The original store was opened in 1901 by George J. Hohl in the now-gutted Waldron Building in Fairhaven. The company sold flour from the first flour mill in Bellingham and fruit and farm produce on commission in addition to feed hay and seeds.

 

George Hohl was also mayor of Fairhaven in 1901 and fought a vigorous campaign to outlaw gambling in town, bemoaning the dissipation of young men whose efforts could be better served by working in local businesses.

 

The business moved to the foot of Taylor Ave. as Bellingham Flour Mills, to Roeder Ave in 1912 as Whatcom Flour and Feed Co., finally coming to its present site at 1322 Railroad in 1922 as Hohl Feed and Seed.

 

In the early days a railroad track ran in the alley for deliveries. A patron of the local sporting houses would be hired as casual labor to unload the deliveries. Railroad Avenue actually had a track running down the middle of the street. When carloads of hay were delivered, street traffic was tied up until the rail cars were unloaded.

 

Ty Hofeditz was a young man working in Seattle for Lily Seeds when he came to

Bellingham in 1933 to manage Hohl. Ty was named for the baseball player Ty Cobb and was a passionate baseball player for many years, playing first base for the Bellingham Bells. He was a gregarious institution at the store for almost 60 years, wearing a blue lab coat or overalls, keeping his eye on everything from the office upstairs or down on the floor helping customers or reminiscing about their parents or grandparents who had also been customers. Customer service was a mandate. Often he would be out in the county in the afternoon selling grass seed directly to farmers.

 

The store sold certified seed along with anything else a gardener or farmer could possibly need: shovels, rakes, weed killer, fertilizer, chicken wire, mouse traps, mole traps, pots, you name it.

 

The building next door housed the mill for grinding chicken scratch and cow feed. The mill was phased out years ago but most of the milling equipment is still there. The space now stores additional merchandise.

 

Clark's Feed and Seed on the other side of Hohl made the move towards the pet market in the late 70's. Besides dog and cat supplies, they carry an amazing

assortment of fish, both fresh and saltwater There are also aquariums, water plants, fish food, colored gravel, water systems and multitudes of fish furniture.

 

Hohl used to sell fish. One early storefront had two doors with an aquarium between them. It was one of the first businesses to upgrade its front with an awning in Bellingham's downtown beautification. Today's facade is a 2005 version.

 

Ty's son, Jack Hofeditz, was manager for 10 years continuing the customer service standards for which Hohl is known. Jack is also a baseball player. The present manager, Glenn Faber, took over almost five years ago. The emphasis has shifted from the traditional feed and seed to a large selection of pet foods and products. There are kennels, shampoos, flea products, odor neutralizers, brushes, cages, mouse castles, birdhouses, dog food, cat food, bird food, fish food. Glenn has emphasized heirloom seeds and organic products, such as diatomaceous earth to meet the growing demand for more natural gardening products.

 

Charles Gelb, who owned stock in Lily Seeds and who was named after Charles Lily, is the present owner of Hohl. He owns a wholesale feed and seed company in Spokane but even as an 80-year-old makes an annual trip to visit Bellingham. Mr. Gelb bought a third attached building that formerly housed Baron's Tire. Since last September, the space has been occupied by K & M Red River Farms, a greengrocer owned by Mike Neuroth that carries organic seeds, herbs, produce and cut flowers.

 

Even though a fax machine and computer are now a part of doing business, the seasons still are a presence at Hohl. Spring bulbs come in Labor Day, begonias, summer bulbs, asparagus roots, seed potatoes, Walla Walla onion sets, bedding plants and seeds for spring. And then there are those baby chicks.

 

After 105 years of business, the enduring motto of Hohl Feed and Seed is still "we are proud of our long years of service to the farmers and gardeners of this area".