The loss of a job, with planning and luck, can sometimes turn into a new small local business.
It can even turn a hardware store into a hard liquor distillery.
To be exact, The Hardware Distillery in Hoodsport, the first and currently only such business in Mason County.
That was the case for Jan Morris, whose Seattle job loss turned her mind toward taking part in a regional self-employment assistance program. Then she took a cue from her son, Cody, who opened the microbrewery Epic Ales in Seattle three years ago.
“I had done all the paperwork for his brewery, and my husband had put in all the electrical and mechanical aspects,” she said. “So I thought, well, if he can do that, then I can do this.”
The project was also born out of the couple's familiarity with Hoodsport, where they'd had a summer cabin for years. Knowing that the water — key to the distilling process — was top-notch, they decided to jump into owning a small local business as their “retirement job.”
The first step was to find the right building, which turned out to be the former Hoodsport hardware store and adjacent sign and curio shop, along the picturesque Hood Canal just southeast of Lake Cushman. The plan was to age the whiskey in barrels in the basement, which opened to the fresh salt air, then process it in the distillery upstairs on the hardware side of the building. The tasting room to the right would occupy the curio shop side, and incorporate old tools and knickknacks from both former stores.
The first challenge, though, came with the permitting, which, in Morris' words, “took a long, long time.” It was two years, in fact, from the time the Morrises purchased the site to when it finally opened Memorial Day weekend.
“However, because it took us two years to open, everyone was watching what we were going through,” she said. “They would come in and say, 'It's OK, we're rooting for you. So we're really grateful to the community for hanging in there with us.”
At the Olympic National Park Visitor Center down the road, volunteer Rob Reed said that since the distillery opened, it's generated a lot of interest from both locals and tourists. He also helps out at The Hardware, including making a honey mead just that morning, and vouched for impromptu stop-ins by passersby.
“They've been doing a lot of business. It's really become a focal point for the town,” he said. “Everybody who goes up and down this road is checking it out.”
Now the Morrises are working on more types of alcohol to go along with the fruits of each season, as well as labels to pair with locally harvested oysters and other foods.
“It's not just that we have the benefit of being at this site, which is very visible, but we're also in a community that's very supportive,” Morris said. “It's really a great place to open a business.”